“The Coming Storm”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations
Last February, Mark Roberts sent me a blog post by a Canadian Baptist pastor entitled “If I Were Starting a Denomination from Scratch”, which can be found here. I found the article intriguing, but even more so were the posts to which the author linked inside it. They explained why he was at the point of starting a new denomination in the first place.
In 2017, the pastor learned that one of the other churches in his denomination had passed a resolution allowing LGTB people to become congregational leaders. A few years later, a pastor in another congregation came out as transgender. The author attempted to rally opposition against such things during denominational conferences, but he lost the power struggle. Now, he and other like-minded Canadian Baptists are leaving their conference in search of an organization that still affirms traditional views of sexuality.
As the saying goes, where the Baptists are now is where the churches of Christ will be 20 years from now. Indeed, I don’t think it will take that long. Some progressive voices in our brotherhood already are appealing for a more inclusive approach. It is probably true that within 10 years, the controversy will take center stage, along with the controversies about women as church leaders, the instrument, and the necessity of baptism for forgiveness of sins.
It's probably also true that the more institutional entanglements a congregation has, the harder resisting this pressure will prove to be. As the Canadian pastor found, the organizations you support financially have a way of exerting influence back on you. The result of being unequally yoked is typically either that you cease to be yoked or that you cease to be unequal.
Congregations without these entanglements will have an easier time withstanding outside influences. When we follow the pattern of the early church, we inherit the strengths of that pattern, and one of them is resistance to worldly coercion. The first-century church thrived despite extreme coercive pressure in the form of persecution. To a truly autonomous congregation, the disapproval of somebody else somewhere else doesn’t matter very much.
Instead, our trial will come from our own members. I know several young people who left the church in part because they objected to its condemnation of the practice of homosexuality. In years to come, as other members are emboldened by an increasingly permissive culture, they will feel free to express those objections and expect to be heard.
As much as brethren like hearing about doctrine that separates them from the world, they dislike hearing about doctrine that separates them from one another. If LGBT issues become too sensitive to discuss, soon we will stop insisting on the Genesis 2:24 model for sexuality altogether.
This is going to be a problem for the Lord’s church in the 21st century, and we must prepare for it by turning to the Scriptures and embracing their teaching about sexual morality. To the worldly, sexuality is a matter of identity, but in God’s word, it is a matter of behavior. Just as the Bible defines a thief as a thief because they have stolen something, it defines a homosexual as a homosexual because they have practiced same-sex intimacy.
The adoption of God’s definitions in these matters accomplishes two important goals. First, it sidesteps the tedious debate about why someone experiences same-sex attraction. In Biblical terms, the answer to the question (whatever it might be) doesn’t matter. It’s not a sin to be tempted. It’s only a sin to give in, so the motivations behind any temptation, including this one, are of no spiritual consequence.
Second, it gives hope to those who struggle with these desires. “Such were some of you” in 1 Corinthians 6:11 does not mean that any of those people were released from temptation once they obeyed the gospel. Instead, the adulterer was still tempted to cheat on his wife, the reviler was still tempted to shoot his mouth off, and so on. They became ex-adulterers and ex-revilers because, even though they continued to feel those temptations, they ceased to be controlled by them.
The same is true for the godly ex-homosexual. He has not changed his sexual inclinations. He has not prayed the gay away. Instead, he has determined to devote his body to Christ instead of sin. If he spends the rest of his life fighting off temptation, that does not make him a spiritual failure. It makes him a success.
To the world, this is the most awful fate imaginable because it violates the preeminent worldly value of sexual autonomy. Here too, we must reject fleshly thinking. Sexual satisfaction is not the Christian’s preeminent value. Holiness is.
Just as Christ calls the unscripturally divorced to celibacy, so too He calls to celibacy those whose know only same-sex attraction. This is a burden, but it is not a spiritual death sentence. There are thousands of Christians who live celibately according to His will but find joy in His service regardless. Blessed are those who join them!
This Biblically faithful approach bears meaningful fruit in two ways. First, it allows us to defeat accusations of bigotry. No longer do LGBT people occupy their own special, disfavored category, in which they stand condemned because of the desires they feel. Instead, they are held accountable to the same standard as the rest of us.
Second, it allows us to reach out compassionately to sinners. I shudder to think how many people have been driven away from Christ not because of their sins, but because of their temptations. Jesus will receive such if they sincerely seek Him, and so should we.
Some of the challenges that will face the 21st-century church remain hidden from us, but the looming problems with issues of alternative sexuality are obvious. However, the gospel prevailed in these areas 2000 years ago, and it will prevail tomorrow too. If we are true to it, it will not fail us.
This article originally appeared in the April issue of Pressing On.