welcome. why "weak on sanctification"?

this accusation is often made about lutheran christians. because we focus so strongly on god's justifying grace in christ, and our continual need, as "sinner-saints," to receive god's gifts of grace through word and sacrament, people say we are "weak on sanctification." i prefer to say we are strong on jesus, whose sanctifying work in our lives is the fruit of the gospel all along our lifelong journey. i would much rather focus on what he has done than on anything i might do.

the weekly discussion

each week I set forth a topic to promote discourse about some aspect of Christianity, the church, or the spiritual life. i would love to hear your perspective and thoughts on each week's subject. these discussions are usually posted on mondays, so if you missed this week's post and would like to catch up on the conversation, just scroll down and join us.

October 2, 2009

my thoughts: follow-up to weekly discussion

update: i have added one point to my thoughts below...

i thought there might be an avalanche of response to this week's discussion on the decisions in the ELCA regarding homosexuality, but few responded. wonder why? i'm thinking many folks probably weren't interested in discussing an issue that affects a mainline Protestant denominational situation that has little to do with their daily reality. i thought the mere mention of homosexuality would raise evangelical hackles enough to get people talking. guess not.

to wrap up the subject, in this post i thought i'd give a few of my reflections on some of the issues related to this discussion, in a way that is broader than the ELCA conflict. as a christian living in these times, what is my thinking with relation to homosexuality, christianity, the church, and living as christ's people in this culture?

(1) i believe the bible teaches that homosexuality is not congruent with god's design for creation. i don't say this as the result of merely reading a few verses that speak against gay practices. the whole story of the bible, beginning in genesis, presents a view of creation in which the sexual union of male and female in marriage with the potential of creating life is the pattern the creator intended. further development of how this pictures the relationship between christ and his bride solidifies god's intention. nowhere in scripture is the same-sex relationship endowed with this meaning and significance. rather, it is specifically set forth as contrary to nature, a distortion of the original design.

(2) furthermore, homosexual practices, especially those identified with idolatrous or pagan and abusive practices are specifically called sinful and condemned in the Biblical worldview. Some scholars try to say that these are the only gay practices that the Bible condemns, and they do a lot of exegetical and hermeneutical gymnastics to prove that Scripture is not speaking of the kinds of homosexual partnerships we see today, but are only talking about things like Canaanite rituals and Greek pederasty. However, in the light of point one (the overall biblical story) even if culture-specific practices are highlighted in certain texts, they are set forth as extreme instances of an overall unacceptable lifestyle.

(3) i don't believe that profound same-sex attraction which leads to homosexuality is something anyone chooses or practices solely on the basis of their life experiences. it is a matter of nature, not nurture. am i saying that, "god made them that way"? no, i am saying that we live in a fallen creation, and that a predisposition toward homosexuality is part of our brokenness as sinful human beings that some experience and must deal with.

(4) sexual identity is something that probably won't change. though some homosexuals who become christians may find "change" to one degree or another with regard to the power of same-sex attraction, i think it probable that for most, ssa will remain a struggle for them their whole lives, a part of what it means for them to be "sinner-saints."

(5) christians should not oppose giving legitimate civil rights and the normal benefits of citizens to homosexuals. this might include recognizing some legal status (civil unions?) for gay couples. in my view, no christian should be against a neighbor having access to the benefits of living in a free society on the basis of something like sexual orientation.

(6) we as christians must humbly practice repentance and confess our own part in creating and sustaining the cultural atmosphere regarding relationships that is present today. christians may not have bought into homosexuality, but we have bought into the present cultural ethos that marriage and sexual relationships should be rooted in romantic feelings and that personal fulfillment should be the primary focus. all data shows that we have not behaved differently from non-christians in this regard. when it comes to pre-marital sexual activity, adultery, divorce, and the general adoption of cultural values about love and marriage, we look pretty much the same as everyone else. if by our actions we are saying that these relationships are primarily about personal fulfillment, what right do we have to say to gays that they should not seek the same? we owe the world an apology.

(7) it is not enough for christians to say, "sinful!" when dealing with gays. for the life of me, i don't see how those who follow christ can ignore an entire population of people simply because we don't agree with their lifestyle. yet that is exactly what we are doing in most of evangelicalism. in my experience as a minister for 30+ years, i can count on one hand the times i've been involved in a conversation about gay folks in our community, and how jesus cares for them, and how we might befriend and be good neighbors to them, and how we might try to understand them, serve them, and show them jesus' love. not acceptable! Jesus' way is not the culture war, but the way of the basin and the towel, the way of eating and drinking with sinners, the way of touching those others deem untouchable.

(8) we must think through the issues related to "church," and find ways of supporting gay brothers and sisters who believe in jesus. we are all sexual sinners. not one of us is counted righteous in christ by cleaning up his or her sexual act (or any other act for that matter). furthermore, as sinner-saints walking with jesus, none of us find true change or christian growth simply through exhortation, command, and instruction. we grow as we patiently learn, live, love, and suffer in community with one another and in mission to the world. are we willing to live this way with our brothers and sisters who deal with same-sex attraction?

(9) though i disagree with the ELCA decisions, it is not likely that we will leave our ELCA church. i believe strongly that all spiritual formation is local, and we are in a good local congregation right now. the decision made by the national body won't likely have much effect on us in that setting.

today's van gogh
still life: vase with twelve sunflowers, 1889


  1. I largely agree with your stance, my comment on your other post notwithstanding. I do think we (the Church) judge homosexuals too harshly, almost deciding they are beyond God's grace, certainly nothing we want to deal with. Heaven forbid we play a part in bringing them to Him.

    I don't know how I feel about #7 though, again in light of my comment on the other post. While our acts do not save us (and I truly believe this), doesn't God ask us to acknowledge our sin, to repent of it? While I may struggle with sin, I still *call* it sin. Many homosexuals who call themselves Christians do not even acknowledge their lifestyle as sinful, and I believe that is where Jesus would call them out. And certainly, once we've acknowledge a particular sin, God expects us to change our hearts.

    Am I misunderstanding what you're saying?

  2. The "church" aspect of this whole matter is the hardest part as far as i can see.

    Right now, i think the church needs to be challenged primarily to be more missional toward gays, to view them as our neighbors, to love and serve them, to build bridges to them rather than fight the culture war. People like Andrew Marin, who has written LOVE IS AN ORIENTATION, is doing that in Chicago and helping us understand how. That's the first step, but by and large, evangelicalism is far from being there yet. That's mostly what I'd like to see happening now.

    As far as #7 and life WITHIN the church, Andrea, my thoughts are very preliminary at this point, and are meant to do little more than raise the issue. It's almost like we are in the days of Paul--being challenged to reach out to the Gentiles. But once the Gentiles and the Jews come together in the church, what do you do then? That's one main reason we have a New Testament!

    So, take any comments about life within the church as mostly theoretical at this point. My real burden is: do we see gays as our neighbors, are we able to befriend them, are we willing to listen to them, to love them, to repent of our own attitudes and actions, to learn to live and speak the gospel to them?

  3. I agree with you for the most part.
    This raises a similar question to what iMonk has on his blog today about whether to let unmarried co-habitating couples become church members. The question - is marriage primarily a religious or civil institution? If it is merely a civil institution then the government decides who gets it and what their status means.
    Ironically, in England marriages are mainly a religious institution. A prominent gay English celebrity said that he doesn't understand the fascination with gay marriage. He would never want to be "married" because it is primarily a religious institution, and he doesn't want to be apart of something that doesn't acknowledge his sexual orientation. Also explains why much of Europe is trending toward remaining single, because they don't want anything to do with the church and religion.

  4. Actually, I think I meant #8! That might make my comments a little clearer :)

  5. Andrea, I added an update, and the former #7 is now #8. I'm just messin' with your mind, aren't I?

  6. D'oh! Yes, you are messin' with my mind :)

    Was #6 what you added? That's an interesting theory, and I partly agree with it as well...but again, I believe we as a church, and as individuals, should be turning in repentance from this view of marriage, or any relationship. I'll admit I've struggled, and still struggle, with marriage being about personal fulfillment...but I also acknowledge that indeed it is NOT about what I get out of it, and I continue to make my best efforts at dying to self (I kill off a little more of me every day ;) )

    Yes, we've failed, but that doesn't mean we should continue to fail, and use that as an out for others to follow us.