Hello, I must be going, 5

christian-vanityfairThe more determined men become to despise the teaching of Christ, the more zealous should godly ministers be to assert it and the more strenuous their efforts to preserve entire. And more than that, by their diligence to ward off Satan’s attack.

John Calvin

The reality of what was clearly taught throughout the Scriptures concerning our sexual attraction and expression left me with some sobering conclusions.
As a Baby-Boomer who had lived through the sexual revolution in the years before the threat of AIDS, saw the explosion in divorce and its devastation in families, my generation was the leader in an apostasy from biblical marriage that needed to be confessed and repented. We were the generation that separated sexuality from marriage to such an extent that it was only a matter of time before the pressure from our culture brought about the change in the Episcopal Church that brought me to my study of sexual attraction.
There was also absolutely no possible way to approach my brother or sister in Christ who struggled with same-sex attraction with an air of self-righteous superiority that might silence them. We were both broken people whose affections were not what they were created to be. We were both lost, judged and found wanting before God and in need of his rescue. The substitutionary death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus is the answer to all sexual sinfulness.

I had come to the second “addend” of our equation Man’s Need + God’s Rescue = Our Response, “What is the nature of God’s rescue?” The Scripture is full of this information: Jesus Christ is the promised One sent for our rescue. To understand this fact is to understand something astonishing. It is the purpose of God the Father, for his people in Christ – to undo, to remove and to rectify completely, the effects of sin and of the fall. That is the object of God in salvation.

That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15 that what had been lost in the first Adam had been restored in the second Adam, Jesus Christ. What the God of the Scriptures has demanded, he has provided in the person and work of Jesus. Jesus Christ is the only one uniquely qualified to fulfill what needed to be fulfilled. There is a wonderful coherence in the witness of Scripture and in the ancient Creeds here on the person and work of Jesus. Jesus is the second Adam who restores what the first Adam lost. So my next question was: “If in our sinfulness all of us are disordered sexually, how am I to minister, to teach, preach and to hold accountable as being in line with gospel a relatively narrow band of people: fellow believers in a local church? What does it look like when a Christian’s sexual attraction is restored in Jesus Christ?”

The St. Matthias Day Statement of the Church of England Evangelical Council put it this way (the Article quoted in italics is Article 12 of the 39 Articles, one of our secondary standards):

4 – God’s grace and call to holiness

As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead. (James 2.26)

Although good works, which are the fruits of faith and follow on after justification, can never atone for our sins or face the strict justice of God’s judgment, they are nevertheless pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ and necessarily spring from a true and living faith. Thus a living faith is as plainly known by its good works as a tree is known by its fruit. (Article XII)

4a. The Church is not only called to proclaim the justifying grace of God in Jesus Christ, but also to teach clearly that true faith expresses itself in holy behavior.

4b. This holiness includes holiness in the area of sexual behavior: faithfulness within marriage between a man and a woman and abstinence outside marriage.

4c. The Church is therefore not free to affirm or bless any form of sexual activity or sexual relationship outside marriage but should welcome those in such relationships with pastoral care, a call to repentance, and the good news that God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us to flourish by living lives that are in accordance with His call to holiness.

Notice how you can’t be a genuine Christian without repentance. Everyone – including me – is guilty of sin, but Christianity hinges on repentance: we agree with God about our sin, and we turn from it and turn toward Jesus. When it comes to Christianity, this debate is not about same-sex expression versus other sins. It is about whether or not repentance is integral to the Christian life.

Why is repentance so necessary? My identity – in Christ – is central to who I am.  It is an ontological reality. In his redemption our positional direction with God has changed. I am expiated, propitiated, justified and reconciled in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection. Sin’s dominion has ended, but sin’s presence remains. I still live on this side of glory – one foot in heaven and one foot in this world – and until I reach that perfect glory I will still have this “dual” nature within me that continues to struggle with sin. This is why we pastors use complicated phrases like “the already and the not-yet” to describe the kind of Christian state we are all in.

So here was the question: Is a believing Christian’s same-sex attraction restored in Christ or is it outside of Christ, that is, is it an attraction that Christ’s death must destroy? I could not find one place in the Scriptures that equivocates same-sex attraction  to heterosexual attraction except in the holiness command to abstinence: a Christian, whether of same-sex or heterosexual attraction, must refrain from acting on their attraction and must repent from such attraction because such thought and activity outside of marriage is not in Christ. A Christian’s same-sex attraction must remain buried with Christ in His death.

For the Christian in union with Christ it is about who Jesus is and what he has done in his death and resurrection. My hope is to bury in his death what is contrary and to pursue with a single-mindedness what glorifies my union in him. And because of who he is means whatever he says in regard to sexual practices is what I believe to be true, loving, and being hard-wired in creation is ultimately best for human flourishing – even when it seems out of step with contemporary culture. And this process of deepening union in Christ takes years of living the Christian life of repentance to turn from the default position we usually take to one that is in conformance with what Scripture teaches.

The default position in human beings tends to think far less of God and his perfection than what Scripture seems to indicate of his perfection and we think much of ourselves in such a way that we fail to recognize the sinfulness we find in ourselves, its pervasiveness, extent and unshakeability to what we find in the Scriptures. We raise man up far too high. We imagine God according to ourselves. Holiness seems beyond our comprehension so we create an image of God not upon what Scripture teaches of him but more or less an image based on our own experiences. You can see these assumptions behind every reaction to what the Scripture says concerning love and sexuality.

In my study I noticed how most New Testament scholars (there are always a small few who do not) that kept to the liberal hermeneutic conceded that the gospels were accurate here, that Jesus did hold to the understanding of human sexuality we find in Genesis 1 and 2. Jesus was even more restrictive than the Ten Commandments concerning sexual attraction. But (and it is a BIG “but”) we now “know better” and so must put Jesus’ clear statements aside. So what does it mean then to follow Jesus? How are we to be faithful disciples? Do I follow Jesus or do I trust the conclusion of a fallen human being like myself? Do I trust someone who did not die for my sins, did not rise from the dead and ascend into heaven and is not proclaimed Lord of All?

Things were lining up in my thinking. The equivocation of same-sex attraction with heterosexual attraction would require that you accept one hermeneutic over the other in its totality. There is no “both/and” here. It is “either/or.”

So my study of same-sex attraction led me to a wider question of the totality of Christian revelation and authority. I needed to make a decision concerning the meaning of my primary oath in ordination: “How am I to understand the Scriptures as authoritative?” It was clear that the Scriptures for many New Testament scholars were in no sense authoritative, but an historic artifact of human interpretation.

How are the Scriptures to be inspired, clear and authoritative? So where can we turn for an answer? Once again, to Jesus.

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