One of the worst things church leaders can do is confuse worldly notions of compassion, love and tolerance with the biblical versions of them. They are usually as different as night and day. Yet as more and more churches become biblically illiterate as they soak in all things from the spirit of the age, this increasingly happens.
Instead of beginning – and staying – with biblical truth and absolutes to guide our thinking and actions, too many compromised churches simply run with whatever the world happens to be running with at the time. That is a recipe for disaster.
Examples of this are endless. Let me offer one such case which was brought to my attention today. A committed believer who takes seriously what Scripture says about things like sexuality, marriage and family was shocked on Sunday to discover something in her own parish.
She was quite concerned when she contacted me. She was rightly worried about a rather iffy article in the church bulletin of her local Catholic church. It featured an article about a situation overseas, and began with this opening introduction:
Our faith calls us to be open to those on the fringes of society – to listen to their stories and to come to some undertanding of their life situations. It is only in this empathic environment that we will become the hands and the feet of Jesus for all. Those of us who have homosexual friends and famliy know some of the stories of the LGBT community, yet others may not have any contact with them. One way to become more aware is to read, watch and listen to stories already available.
Leaving aside the fact that whoever wrote this could use some spelling lessons, it is certainly problematic on various counts. The main problem is, this introductory paragraph quite significantly misrepresents what Christianity is all about. Our faith NEVER calls us to be open to sin and sinful lifestyles.
Yes, we are to reach out to sinners, but only and always with a view to seeing them turn from their sin, delivered from their bondage, and brought into newness of life in Christ through faith and repentance. That is always the end game for believers. It is not about just sitting around and being “open” to everyone and just listening to their stories.
Sure, if we have a relationship with a non-Christian, we seek to lead them to faith in Christ, and this involves having discussions, maybe over a meal or a cup of coffee, and so on. But just opening our minds to any and every experience out there – especially sinful ones – is not a helpful approach.
One might as well tell believers to just sit around and listen to and be open about adulterers telling us their stories. Or fornicators. Or thieves. Or drunkards. And if grouping these various sorts of sinners together is not to the liking of some, then they can take that up with the Apostle Paul.
Under divine inspiration he clearly told us this: “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
And in verse 11 Paul goes on to make it quite clear what he has in mind: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
Yes such people exist, and they now exist in the church of God. But they are ex-thieves, ex-adulterers, ex-homosexuals, etc. They have fully agreed with God about their sin, they have repented, and they have found new life in Christ. They now talk about how Christ has delivered them from their dead-end lifestyles and sinful bondages.
They are NOT sitting around in the Corinthian church or elsewhere talking about their sin, urging believers to be open-minded about it all. They are rejoicing that they are what Paul refers to them as: “that is what some of you were”.
Now if this intro piece had said something different, such as the following, we could all be much happier with it: “We need to know non-Christians, befriend them, and seek to reach out to them. We can listen to their stories, show genuine compassion, and pray for them. And we must pray for ourselves as we seek to help them out of their sin and into the Kingdom.”
THAT sort of openness to others and listening to their stories is of course not a problem. But we get no sense of this in their intro paragraph. And it does not get much better in the article they share after that. The bulletin linked to an article looking at the scene in Germany: www.ncronline.org/news/world/german-bishop-urges-church-debate-blessing-same-sex-unions
The title is this: “German bishop urges church debate on blessing same-sex unions.” The article begins:
The vice president of the German bishops’ conference has urged a debate on whether Catholic clergy should bless same-sex unions. “I’m concerned with fundamental questions of how we deal with each other; although ‘marriage for all’ differs clearly from the church’s concept of marriage, it’s now a political reality,” said Bishop Franz-Josef Bode of Osnabruck. “We have to ask ourselves how we’re encountering those who form such relationships and are also involved in the church, how we’re accompanying them pastorally and liturgically.”
Um, that is NOT the kind of debate we must have. That is NOT how we should be “open”. We are never told to bless that which is sinful. We are told to oppose and resist sin and evil. I would have thought a verse like Romans 12:9 makes this perfectly clear: “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.”
There are of course plenty more such Scriptural injunctions for us to follow. But let me close by expanding a bit more on the Romans text. Some years ago John Piper gave a sermon on this. It is well worth reading or listening to. Here I can only offer a few bits of it.
In his opening remarks he says this:
My point is: if you will think and pray and obey your way down into this straightforward exhortation, you (and your children) will be liberated from many of the follies of this age—and every age.
Let’s do this together. I see five things to point out. You may not even be conscious of these things, and yet they can have a powerfully good effect on you. In other words, you don’t have to be an expository preacher to be transformed by the Bible. But it helps to have them pointed out from time to time and may hasten and deepen the transforming power of the text.
The five points he then offers and elaborates upon are these:
1. There Is Such a Thing as Objective Good and Evil Outside Myself
2. Choosing Against Evil and for Good Is Not Enough; Inner Intensity Is Required
3. The Bible Commands That Our Emotions Be Changed Even Though We Don’t Have Immediate Control Over Them
4. Objective Moral Good Is Good for Us, and Objective Moral Evil Is Bad for Us
5. Genuine Love Must Hate
He begins his discussion of Point 5 this way: “If there were a universe in which there was no evil that hurt people or dishonored Christ, there would be only love and no hate. There would be nothing to hate. But in a world like ours it is necessary not only that we love and hate, but that our love include hate.”
This is the Scriptural path all believers must follow. It is NOT about being open to sin, and just listening to the stories of sinners. It is about listening to sinners with true biblical love, and that means seeking to turn them to Christ and away from their sinful self.