What kind of church does God want us to be?
Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) He notes in Mark 10:29-31 that this will involve losing some things that are close to our hearts. Yet Christians are promised much more than what they have had to give up. Jesus is referring to a Christian’s local church family, which offers close relationships and a new home for the believer – a place to encourage joyful endurance of persecutions and to enjoy the earthly start of our eternal life together.
Thus following Jesus should be relationally appealing both in the here and now and for eternity. The gospel should lead us to love and welcome all who want to follow Jesus. Yet we know this does not always happen with those we feel are different to us. For example, one group of people who are often rejected by churches are those who experience same sex attraction. And yet the gospel offers good news of God’s grace to every sinner. Those who are prey to such ‘respectable’ sins as greed, anger or judging are on the same footing as those prey to sins that are not our own, and that we tend to judge more harshly. Do we need to think more seriously as a church about how we truly offer God’s free grace to all groups of people?
Sam Allberry spoke in Adelaide recently at the Living Hope SA event. He touched on the kind of church we need to be if we are going to see people converted from the LGBTI community to Christ. His ideas are appropriate in thinking through how our church reaches out to any sub-culture different to our own, and are worth recording here.
- Churches shouldn’t avoid the issue of same sex attraction.
Sadly, some churches have abandoned God’s timeless teaching on sexual relationships and allowed secular culture to rule their thinking instead of the Bible. Other church leaders refuse to teach on the subject because they feel it might damage their ability to evangelise. Rather than avoid the issue we need to speak about it biblically, clearly, respectfully and in a manner that applies God’s teaching on sexual immorality to everyone. In other words, we need to be careful of condemning same sex sin and yet remaining silent about, or at least being more accepting of, heterosexual sin. In other words, we need to apply the whole of God’s teaching, not just the parts that are more comfortable for us.
- Churches need to make all sexual sin safe to talk about.
All adult Christians struggle with sexual sin in one form or another, but for some reason we see homosexual sin as a worse sin than others. We mock gay people, make jokes and speak of them in a harsher way. As Christians we should feel convicted about this. At a past Sam Allberry conference, a Christian church leader asked, “How can you engage someone who has such disgusting sin in their lives?” Sam’s spur of the moment reply was quite wise. He answered, “When we are rightly disgusted with our own sin.”
Same sex attraction is not a political issue. It is a personal issue. There are likely some Christians we know who suffer this temptation. We need to speak about this struggle in a loving way, making sure we don’t reserve special condemnation for those involved. Only when we approach the issue humbly and lovingly, conscious of our own sinfulness and God’s incredible grace to us personally, will we make it safe for all of us Christians to speak personally about our struggles without fear of being ostracised, rejected, mocked or treated as the worst of sinners.
- Churches should celebrate a Biblical understanding of sexuality.
As Christians, we know that sexuality does not determine our identity. Fundamentally, we are redeemed children of God in Christ. Psalm 139 reiterates what we know from Genesis, that God made us as we are, male and female, and that this is good. Our body, including the gender God gave us, is no accident, but a gift from God. Our birth gender is also reflected in our resurrection bodies, as seen in Jesus himself. However, while our gender is part of our eternity, our sexual expression is not (Matt 22:30). Our sexual identity is also not about our feelings. This is a counter-cultural message. Culture holds that in order to be fully complete I must be able to express my desired sexuality. But God’s word is very liberating for us. I am complete and have purpose whether I am sexually fulfilled or not. In addition, even the best sex on earth is not the pinnacle of life’s experience. Marriage is a good gift from God, but it isn’t the be all and end all. Certainly, our value and purpose as a saved child of God is not dependant on how our sex life is going. As a church we need to encourage one another to focus on Christ alone as the source of our identity and satisfaction in life, regardless of our sexuality.
(to be continued) Rick