Sunday, March 31, 2013

Speak Out or Stay Silent: A Response

The issue of same-sex marriage divides not only Christian believers and unbelievers. It has also manifested itself as division amongst Christians themselves. There seem to be two major camps of argumentation amongst Christians. Those who take a Biblical stance and declare homosexuality to be a sin; and those who declare that love conquers all, and that Jesus would have loved the homosexuals as much as He did the prostitutes of his own age.

The problem I find with many of the arguments from those who ascribe to the latter view is that, while they may use language that is ‘Bibley’, the phrases they use to support their position often lack any Biblical context. Yet because people may recognize the phrases, they assume that it must be truthful. However, when taken in context the verses often don’t mean what they are portrayed as meaning. This article will look at one such example from a Facebook status that was posted by Jeff Turner of Jeff-Turner.org

“Jesus never said that the world would know that we were His disciples by our stance on same-sex marriage, or by our stance on any other political issue. He said that they would know that we were His disciples by the love that we have for one another. I wonder, do we express the burning love of God towards our brothers and sisters as loudly as we denounce what we deem to be wrong in society?”

The verse that is being referenced in this paragraph is found in John 13:35. In context, Jesus and the disciples are in the upper room after the Last Supper. It is important to know that the only people in the room are Jesus, the twelve apostles, and the women who are serving them. Why is this important? It shows who the audience of Jesus’ words are.
Turner asks, “Do we express the burning love of God towards our brothers and sisters as loudly as we denounce what we deem to be wrong in society?” The question that arises from this is, who does he consider to be ‘brothers and sisters’? There are only two possibilities. Brothers and sisters refers either to fellow Christians, or to everyone in the world at large. Turner seems to be concerned with the public perception of the way Christians treat people, so I have to assume that he defines ‘brothers and sisters’ as everyone. This would mean that he interprets Jesus’ words as saying that people will know we are disciples of Jesus by the way that we love every single person.

While this is, in a sense, true, this is not the meaning of Jesus’ commandment. This is demonstrated by considering John 13 as a whole. Jesus washes his disciples feet, all twelve of them. Yet verse 11 says, “For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, “Not all of you are clean.” Jesus knows that there is one among them who is not truly of His flock – Judas Iscariot. Therefore He announces his betrayal to the group, gives Judas a morsel of food, after which Judas leaves to carry out his plan against Jesus.

It is after Judas leaves that Jesus utters these words: “"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."(John 13:34-35). Jesus gives this command to his disciples only. Therefore it means that disciples are to love other disciples, as Christ has loved the disciples. We are to show the love of Christ to non-Christians, to be sure. However there is to be a different kind of love that is displayed between Christian brothers and sisters. If Turner’s interpretation was true, then Jesus would have given this command when Judas, a clear apostate and unbeliever, was still in the room.

So in answer to Turner’s question, Christians should be expressing the burning love of God towards Christian brothers and sisters, this is true. But the implication in his line of reasoning is that showing love to everyone must trump declaring what “we deem to be wrong in society.” This is a dangerous statement. If it were true that people were denouncing what they personally believed was wrong with society I could understand the point. However it is not the personal opinions of Christians that are saying what is wrong, it is the Word of God in scripture that declares homosexuality and many other common practices of the day as sinful. To be silent about that is an injustice to the gospel, as will be demonstrated in the following paragraphs.

"Now, I'm not saying anything either way about any particular political issue, and no amount of cajoling will get me to. All I'm saying is that we have once more made a splash in the headlines, and it has nothing to do with our love for one another, and everything to do with our hatred for certain practices. I understand all of the, "Well, real love looks like speaking up", sort of statements, really, I do. Still, Jesus did not say that opposition to social issues would be the earmark of an apostolic believer. Rather, He said that it would be radical love.”

Unfortunately for Turner, homosexuality is not a political issue, it is a moral issue. So to call it a political issue and refuse to take a biblical stance on it is rather cowardly, especially in an era where the Christian voice of truth is being suppressed by those who actively promote evil. Today’s media is doing everything it can to normalize homosexuality and marginalize Christianity. Christians should not expect the secular media to portray us in any sort of positive light.

I ask, what is wrong with Christians expressing their hatred for certain practices? Romans 12:9 says, “Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.” We are commanded to hate what is evil. Should we begin to affirm other evil practices? Should we celebrate those who desire to have sexual relations with minors? With close relatives? With animals or inanimate objects? If you think I am being hyperbolic, think again. Christians will soon be fighting these battles as well, and with the precedent of same-sex marriage as their forerunner, I don’t think they will have as hard a fight to gain acceptance.

These are evil practices, and we are commanded to abhor them. Instead, under the guise of ‘love’ we are allowing the secular society to define the morality of these issues. With this generation being raised to see homosexuality as normal and even good, the Biblical standard of right and wrong is being pushed further and further away. And as long as Christians remain silent and refuse to stand up against secular ideologies being made mainstream, we will continue to lose our voice.

Further, Jesus never said that the earmark of an apostolic believer would be radical love. Such a phrase is not found in scripture. Jesus did however set an example for how we are to conduct ourselves with people who are caught in sin. Jesus came with a message of repentance. When people came to a saving faith in Him, his response was to tell people to go and sin no more – to turn from their sinful lifestyles and to pursue righteousness. If we are to bring a Christ-like love to unbelievers, we must similarly proclaim that they must repent from their sins.

Turner makes it out to seem that to proclaim a verse of scripture and to say that something is wrong demonstrates our hatred for certain practices. It should be noted that Jesus was also one to be vocal in His opposition of certain practices. In fact, he fashioned a whip of cords and drove out the money changers in the temple, quoting scripture saying, “It is written, 'MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER'; but you are making it a ROBBERS' DEN.” (Matt 21:13). Is Jesus being unloving to these people because he is declaring their actions to be wrong and quoting scripture to them? Absolutely not. Jesus has something more important in mind than the feelings of the people He has driven out, and that is the glory of God.

“You see, until you drink from the crystal fountain that is the Love of God, you cannot possibly radiate it outward to others. When all you know is sin consciousness, and prohibitive preaching, you can only radiate negativity, and speak of what you're against. Truth is, if all perceived sins were to disappear from society, most believers would find themselves without a voice, because the only things they ever make a fuss about is stuff they disagree with.”

I am not sure where Turner is getting this ‘crystal fountain’ image from, but this paragraph succeeds in eliminating the need for grace that he so expressly promotes in the following paragraph. Knowing the love of the Father is rooted in the fact that we need a savior. What do we need to be saved from? Our sins. Romans 3:23 reminds us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”

Turner says that prohibitive preaching radiates negativity. Why is this a bad thing? If people do not understand the depths of their own depravity then the news of a savior will not be good news to them. If we refuse to talk about sin to people, then what use is grace? People need to understand what they are being saved from if they are to understand the gift that is given to them in grace.

Again, I am not sure what point Turner is trying to make with his final sentence. It appears that the sole purpose is to bolster his stance that people ought not to be disagreeing with others based on what they consider to be sinful.

“My friends, until we are utterly possessed and captured by the love of our Father, we will continue to be nothing more than clanging cymbals, and noisy gongs. We'll get lots of attention, but will have absolutely nothing relevant to say to anyone. Zechariah, an Old Covenant priest and the father of John the Baptist, lost his voice throughout his wife's pregnancy, and only regained it when he agreed with her that their child's name was to be John, which means *GRACE*! I think that it's time for those who claim to represent Christ, who behave more like an Old Covenant priest class, to lose their voices, until they acknowledge that *GRACE* is the name of the game!” It's time for a whole generation to close their lips, until they learn how to speak in the context of God's radical love and grace! I don't want to be known for what I oppose, or for what I'm against! I want to be known as a man radically possessed by the Grace and Kindness of my Father!"

This is the most unfortunate paragraph of this entire presentation. It does not take into account the context of either of the stories it references. The first is 1 Corinthians 13:1. The entire section of 1 Corinthians from chapters 12 – 14 is Paul’s rebuke against people in the Corinthian church who have gotten swept up by the use of tongues in the church. Many were making themselves out to be more spiritual than others by their use of tongues. Paul attempted to correct this by requiring that for every person who spoke in tongues, another should stand up and interpret the tongues for the edification of the entire body. In this way, the body benefited from the speaking of tongues, not simply those who were able to speak them.

Therefore, Paul’s charge in 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”, is still speaking to this issue of tongues. It seems a convenient phrase for Turner to use to prove his point, though, so let us examine further how this verse is being misused.

According to Turner, the love of the Father will prevent us from arguing in ways that will make us as clanging cymbals and noisy gongs. What is his definition of love? It appears to be that love is not declaring that a person’s actions are wrong, thereby permitting their actions. What is Paul’s definition of love? Fortunately this is found in the very chapter this verse is found in. It is many things as described in verses 4-8, but the key here is found in verse 6. “[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth.” According to Paul’s definition, if we are to love homosexual people, we cannot rejoice in their unrighteousness. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 lists homosexuality among other things as an unrighteous lifestyle. Therefore, someone who is not calling their gay friends and neighbors to repentance through the true Word of God is not acting in love.

It is tragic that Turner believes that those who would speak the truth have nothing relevant to say to anyone. I would have to say that a person’s eternal standing with God is something that is relevant to everyone. While people may not like the truth that the Bible has to say, that should not deter us from speaking the truth boldly. The remaining apostles all lost their lives because they would not stop speaking the truth in Jesus’ name – and that by accusing the Jewish leaders of putting the savior of the world to death.

Zacharias, we must remember, lost his voice while offering incense because of his lack of faith. He questioned the angel who delivered to him the news that he and his wife would bear a child. What is it that the angel told Zacharias the child would do? “It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." (Luke 1:17).

John’s role was crucial in the preparation of the coming of Jesus. He also spoke about repentance, and bringing those who were living in disobedience to an attitude of righteousness. Though his name meant grace, that did not mean that he was not a fervent servant of the truth. John found himself imprisoned for precisely the reason that Turner is claiming we should not do. John dared to verbally declare that someone was doing something wrong: “For when Herod had John arrested, he bound him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. For John had been saying to him, "It is not lawful for you to have her." “ (Mat 14:3-4).

And here Turner would have us close our mouths, to be silent in regards to the truth, while countless numbers of people march straight into the judgment that awaits them. This while the Biblical picture shows a vividly contrary picture: people being offended by the truth of scripture and the gospel, and the messengers being imprisoned and executed for their faithfulness.

Woe to anyone who heeds this message! On the day of judgment you also will stand before the Lord, and he will ask you why you did not count the truth of the scriptures valuable enough to obey? How will you answer? Will you say that you were afraid of hurting people’s feelings? That you were afraid of the persecution that would come because people called you a “hater” for quoting scripture to them? Why are you not more afraid of the one to whom you will have to give account?

Christians are rapidly losing the battle against same-sex marriage. Part of the reason is because people are not willing to be voices for the Lord, and many are being convinced by people like Jeff Turner who encourages others not to speak out and garner the negative attention the media desires to give to such acts. But at what cost? How many lives will be lost to eternal punishment because of people who were afraid to speak the truth? How many opportunities to lead someone to repentance will be missed because of someone who didn’t want to offend someone with the gospel?

I leave you with the encouragement of Paul as he languished in prison. For though he knew the dangers of speaking the truth, did so with boldness. May you also speak the truth to those who are under the sway of the powers of this age with such a boldness that you will not fear the persecution that is sure to come.

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak. (Eph 6:18-20)

1 comment:

Travis said...

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:18 & 19