Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Exclusion Of The Sexually Immoral From Christian Fellowship

Truncated Love:
Love Is an Orientation 
       by Andrew Marin, Ph.D.
Love Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community (2009), has been gaining some traction in evangelical circles. Having just finished reading the book I am stunned that an evangelical press like InterVarsity would publish such a fatally flawed work—and that persons such as Scot McKnight (a New Testament professor at an evangelical university, North Park) and a certain Michelle Strombeck of Moody Broadcasting Network (a conservative evangelical organization) would provide endorsements for it...

Thus begins an animated critique of Andrew Marin's book about the struggle to bridge the gap between the evangelical community and Jesus' call to love your neighbor as your self.  Written by Robert A. J. Gagnon, Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, (click here to read the full critique), the article casts one more shot it the heated debate (and sometime verbal blasting powder versus debate) concerning homosexuality and the Church.
My purpose here is not to get caught in the cross hairs of that battle but to remind us all of one very, very neglected reality about holiness and righteousness which in general the heated parties to this debate do not address - perhaps are to chicken to tackle.  The whole teaching of Paul about Exclusion of the Sexually Immoral from the Church - and may I remind you that Paul was not addressing homosexual behavior in the various places where he addresses this issue.  He was addressing the whole issue that when it came to sexual immorality the people of the church, the position of the churches themselves, generally was no different that that of the culture around them.

In this Paul could not have been more relevant to today than 50 years ago anyone in the American Church would have ever dreamed.  His words sound, clipped, judgemental, harsh, and impossible to our permissive church cultures of today - let alone to American society.  I have often wondered how I and my generation - the Baby Boomers - and the generations since could sit around, smile and ignore the likes of the following:

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 (NIV)
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.

1 Corinthians 10:8 (NIV)
We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died.

2 Corinthians 12:21 (NIV)
I am afraid that when I come again my God will humble me before you, and I will be grieved over many who have sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual sin and debauchery in which they have indulged.

Ephesians 5:3 (NIV)
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.

1 Timothy 1:9-11 (NIV)
We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for … for the sexually immoral ... and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.

Now this probably condemns much of what I even as a pastor condoned by failure to take direct action or counsel individually against.  Too often I hid behind the pulpit when addressing these verses and then walked away hoping somebody else (say the elders board) would address the individual instance.  In this may God forgive me for breach of the leadership to which he and the congregation called me.

Nor do I propose to fully understand how - with the opposite so entrenched in our churches, sometime even in the elders board or ministers - to address these mandates of Paul in love and compassion so as to rescue not explode a congregation or a sinful Christian's faith.

But if we are going to throw stones.  If we are going to pronounce judgements against homosexual sexual immorality.  We need to be equally strongly, adamantly addressing every form of sexual immorality first in the church. When we learn the practice of the rescuing discipline of love among ourselves, then we will be prepared for rescuing the sexually immoral in our society.

No matter what I may think of much of what Robert Gagnon says in his critique of Andrew Marin, this I believe he got right:

Rather than say that the whole matter is God’s business and not that of the church, Paul exhorted the Corinthians to “judge those inside” the church who were engaged in immoral behavior (5:12-13). He insisted that the Corinthians should be in a state of mourning for “the one who calls himself a brother” (5:2). “In the name of our Lord Jesus” they should remove the offender temporarily from their community life (“not even to eat with such a one”) as a last-ditch remedial measure (not primarily punitive action) to save “his spirit on the Day of the Lord” and to safeguard the community against laxity in sexual purity (5:4-11) ...

Such sexual offenders cannot be given carte blanche to continue in full fellowship while at the same time living in active violation of foundational sexual standards. Of course, unbelievers have to be given some opportunity of being exposed to the proclamation of the word in the church (see 1 Cor 14:23). And believers too, even when engaged in grossly immoral behavior, have to be given adequate opportunity to see the error of their ways and repent. But, no, the church cannot ever in such matters “release responsibility” with respect to its obligation to speak out against immorality and correct in love members who engage impenitently and repetitively in it.

The church can never give up its obligation to rebuke offenders (in an appropriately loving way, of course) and require repentance. Jesus made this clear: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4) ...

In 2 Timothy, which is even more of a “last testament” and farewell letter than 1 Timothy, we read that “the Lord’s slave [or: servant; doulos]” is responsible for “correcting [or: disciplining, instructing, educating; from the verb paideuō] opponents with gentleness” in the hope that “God may give to them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth and they may come to their senses again [and so escape] from the devil’s trap, having been captured alive by him for [the doing of] that one’s will” (2:25-26). Later in the same letter Timothy himself is solemnly charged “in the presence of God and Christ Jesus who is going to judge the living and the dead” to “proclaim the word … reprove [or: correct, convict, convince, from verb elenchō], rebuke [or: reprimand, warn; from the verb epitimaō], exhort [or: appeal to, urge, encourage, from the verb parakaleō], with all patience and teaching [or: instruction; didachē]” (2 Tim 4:1-2).

It is important to bear in mind that this is the concluding exhortation of the letter so it can hardly be ancillary to the “big picture.” The charge is then followed by the prediction that “there will be a time when (people) will not put up with healthy teaching [or: sound instruction] but in accordance with] their own desires will accumulate for themselves teachers, having an itching in their hearing, and will turn away their hearing from the truth” (4:3-4).

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