Posts Tagged ‘Homosexuality’

You’re all doomed. The world will be ending shortly, and Bill Shorten is the Anti-Christ.

Not really.

But it got your attention. So read on…

It occurred to me that in all the discussion and debate around so-called ‘marriage equality,’ I haven’t seen many Christians quoting from the book of Revelation. So I thought I’d give it a go.

The book of Revelation is a book that is profoundly relevant to both first century Christians and twenty-first century Christians, and in fact all Christians in between. I believe that both those who confine it to a first century milieu (sometimes called ‘Preterists’) and those who see it as largely a yet-to-be fulfilled end time scenario (sometimes called ‘Futurists’) have a faulty way of interpreting the book.

Revelation contains images that communicate the truth about a reality (‘apocalyptic’). The visions John sees are not literal previews of actual historical events to come, but an ‘uncovering’ of the true nature of God and His work in the world through Jesus Christ, and the true nature of the worldly system of rebellious human beings, in partnership with Satan, trying to undermine and overthrow God.

The original readers would have understood the book to be describing their exact situation, and giving them hope to see that behind all the tumultuous events of their time, the Father is seated on the throne and overseeing it all, and that his Son is the true King and saviour in home they can rely 100%.

Revelation helps us as Christians to not be surprised when we see a great divergence between ourselves and the world; when, as Jesus himself predicted, the world hates us, tries to shut us down, and even kills us. In this age our cry is not, ‘Will you save us?’ but ‘How long until you do?’. The book gives us a sure hope for the future culmination of God’s plan to make the kingdom of this world into His Kingdom, when we will see Him face to face and know the gentle touch of his hand as He wipes the tears from our eyes.

“The second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed. It also forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.

This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man. That number is 666.” (Revelation 13:15-18 NIV)

John’s terrifying vision of a dragon and beasts is an expose of Satan’s strategy to undermine God by mimicking His work in order to lead people into idolatry (ie. worship and service of anything that is not God). The Dragon of 13:1 is the Devil, the ‘Father of lies’, who attempts to usurp the Father; He brings forth from the sea a beast which mimics Christ (often identified the ‘Anti-Christ) and claims to be a powerful, resurrected saviour. The second beast is the first beast’s PR machine: it points people to the first beast and leads people to worship it, as it mimics – you guessed it – the Holy Spirit.

Having the mark of the first beast is a sign of ownership and loyalty. It marks the person out as one who was a worshipper of the beast; one who has surrendered their rights and privileges in order to be part of the worldly system.

Those who don’t have the mark – who refuse to give in to idolatry – are marginalised by the world, unable to even buy or sell in order to make a living and feed their families. Christians at the time were literally facing this exclusion, as they refused membership in trade guilds that demanded a pledge to the trade’s patron deity, and as their refusal to honour Caesar as God resulted in their execution.

The message for Christians was not ‘Whatever you do, don’t take the mark!’, but something much more comforting: after an unfortunate chapter break, in 14:1:

‘…there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.’ (Revelation 14:1 NIV).

Do you see the parallel? The redeemed already have a mark on them – the name of the Father and of the Lamb! Christians are owned by the Father, who has purchased them with the precious blood of Christ:

‘Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.’ (2 Corinthians 1:21-22 NIV)

So what we see in this passage is a call for Christians to stand firm on the grace of their salvation, knowing a rock-solid security in Christ, as the world around them seems bent on going to hell in a handbasket.

Notice that the 144000 are not called to fight the beasts or lobby for their downfall. That’s the job of the Lamb, their champion, who will lead the charge and defeat the beasts; and they can rest assured that they will share in his victory. (What a counter-cultural image – three ferocious monsters defeated by a lamb!).

‘What’s this got to do with gay marriage?’ I hear you say. Well, if you’ve persevered this far through my very long introduction, you’re about to be rewarded with the application.

Christians do not fit into the world today any more than they did 1900 years ago. It should come as no shock to us if our faith in Christ results in us being ostracised, demonised or even ultimately killed. Jesus’ promise  of hatred from the world was not just for his immediate disciples, but for anyone who would be his disciple.

Sadly, the church in the west today often seems more interested in winning the approval of the world than in standing with the Lamb and risking losing everything. When the world says to us, ‘If you don’t support marriage equality, you’re disgusting bigots!’ we seem eager to jump through any hoops the world wants us to, even to the point of agreeing with them when they tell us, ‘Jesus never said anything against homosexuality, so it must be OK.’ or ‘Jesus hung around with ‘sinners’ and didn’t judge them.’

By doing this, we are giving in to the campaign to set up an antichrist. An antichrist is not necessarily one who is explicitly opposed to Christ, but is a rival, or alternative christ. It is a christ made in the image of the father of lies; a christ that is appealing to a world filled with people who are rebels at heart and who will do anything but worship the true and living God. A christ that says, ‘Your sin is not that bad after all; in fact, you’re all OK doing whatever you like! See then kingdoms of the world? I will give them all to you if you simply bow down and worship me.’

So it is no coincidence that in a number of countries that have already legalised same-sex marriage there are a growing number of Christians who are being fined and forced out of business, simply because out of loyalty to the true Christ they are refusing to participate in same-sex wedding by providing their professional services. Already a church has already faced legal action for refusing to perform a gay wedding. Already Christian ministries are facing disadvantages for not complying with ‘anti discrimination’ rules, and are being labeled ‘homophobic’ even if they have said nothing publicly and explicitly about homosexuality.

How are Christians to respond to something that many are saying is inevitable? While different Christians have various views on this issue, as well as on how involved we should be in lobbying against the change, I think one thing is sure: Christians in the West who hold firmly to the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality will find themselves increasingly marginalised as our culture moves step by step further away from the Christian values imbibed in it from the era of Christendom.

But it’s not cause to panic. And, in my view, it’s not cause to go out with placards and protest and demand that the beast of human rebellion and haughty independence not be worshipped.

Do we really believe that the Father is sovereign over the rise and fall of kingdoms and cultures? Do we really know that the only thing that is ultimately inevitable is the victory of Christ and the uniting of all things under Him? Are we willing to accept the truth that the decline of a culture into immorality is simply a sign of the wrath of God that is upon it, and is designed so that the grace and kindness of God may be even more magnified as He redeems people from the miry pit of their hard-hearted sinfulness?

We should not overlook what happens next in John’s vision:

‘Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth —to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water. (Revelation 14:6-7 NIV)

As he stands gazing, at on one hand the seething mass of rebellious humanity revelling in its worship of the beast, and on the other hand the glorious risen Lamb with his redeemed people, he hears of the one thing that can bridge the vast gap between the two: the Eternal Gospel. It is a Gospel that calls people to repentance in light of the unavoidable fact of God’s judgement in and though the One He has appointed – Jesus. It’s a Gospel that calls people to true worship of the true God, who created all things, including – and this is easily overlooked – the ‘springs of water.’ In 7:16 we see these springs mentioned:

‘“…the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”’ (Revelation 7:17 NIV)

So the Gospel is also a call to sinners to come and drink at the springs of living water that God’s grace and mercy provide.

This is the main task of the church, and even more so as we feel like we are being assaulted from every side. We are not called to preserve or reform the social and political structures of the world; they are only temporary and are doomed to pass with the rise and fall of civilisation under the hand of the Father. It is only as we faithfully proclaim the Gospel that we will see hearts transformed, with the fruit of right, Christ honouring living coming as a result.

There are two things this does not mean for Christians as we face the demise of culture. Firstly, it cannot mean smugness. We cannot stand on the sidelines wagging our fingers saying, ‘I told you so – but then what else should I expect from reprobates like you?’ Remember, we only stand with the Lamb on Mt Zion because we have been redeemed. That is the only thing that separates us from our pagan neighbours: the gracious redeeming work of Christ.

And secondly, it does not mean we remain silent on the moral issues that face us. The Gospel is the good news of redemption from the power, penalty and pollution of sin. That means sin must be a topic we discuss whenever we are attempting to communicate the Gospel. When sin increases, grace abounds even more (Romans 5:20) – in other words, seeing the horror of sin only serves to magnify the lavish grace of God that rescues us from that sin. Out of love for our neighbours, we cannot stop pointing out their sinfulness, because then the Gospel will be seen for what it is – the best news ever.

Talk delivered at Flinders University on Tuesday, August 19, 2014

There is only so much that can be covered on this issue in the short time we have. I will acknowledge at the start that this will not be a comprehensive coverage of all the questions and dilemmas that spring from what has been an uneasy tension – some may say an all out war – between the Christian faith and the LGBT community. You may finish reading this feeling dissatisfied or maybe offended at what you read; I hope though that you may at least go away with a clearer understanding of the foundation for the Christian view of gender, marriage and sexuality.

For the Christian, this is not a matter of just altering their views on a minor moral issue. As we will see, this issue cuts right to the heart of the Christian faith and message; to require sincere, Bible believing Christians to change their views on this is to require them to go against their conscience and therefore to deny who they truly are. A Christian is not merely someone who holds to a list of beliefs that may be revised and updated; no, a Christian understands that God has done something profound in them to make them a new person; their beliefs are an expression of their identity.

I suggest that for a Christian to deny their convictions is not too different from requiring a gay person to deny their desires.

I will also acknowledge at the outset that the church as an institution does not have a clean record on understanding, accepting helping and including those with same-sex attraction. For what it’s worth, I apologise – if not for my fellow professing Christians, then at least for myself – for the pain and isolation that has been caused by Christians acting and speaking inappropriately about this issue, and for any judgmentalism and hypocrisy expressed towards Gay people – whether it be those who battle with a conviction that their desires are wrong, or those who have decided to accept and celebrate their desires.

In the life and teachings of Jesus we see both extreme compassion, acceptance and grace towards those who are ostracised and condemned by society; yet at the same time a firm, unshakeable commitment to God’s moral standards. That meant he never shied away from calling sin what it was, and calling people to repent. Because of this, I believe that grace and acceptance are not mutually exclusive to holding to a firm, even controversial moral position.

There are three positions on sexuality that you may encounter from those who fall under the broad umbrella of ‘Christendom’:

  1. ‘The Bible prohibits sexual behaviour outside faithful, monogamous, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman; however the world has changed, and we have progressed in our understanding of sexuality since Biblical times. We therefore can disregard those prohibitions as being no longer relevant or helpful for modern society.’
  2. ‘The Bible does prohibit some forms of sexual activity, however its prohibitions are related to specifically abusive, dysfunctional and degrading sexual practices. The Biblical writers did not know of the concept of a loving, committed homosexual relationship, nor did they explicitly say anything that would give us cause to prohibit it.’
  3. ‘The Bible’s prohibition of sexual activity outside of monogamous, lifelong marriage between a man and a woman is a principle that still stands, and presents a standard that all who profess faith in Jesus should seek to live by.’

This post today will be largely on showing the rationale for the third view. This is because the first two views essentially lack integrity:

The first, in that it diminishes the authority of the foundational document of the Christian faith – the Bible – allowing the influence of popular cultural opinion to override a person’s faith convictions. Doing so easily sets us up in a position of arrogance – where we become the arbiters of which aspects of our faith are valid and which are not. In the end, this results not in an authentic expression of Christianity, but in a tailor-made religion that is more an expression of someone’s personal preferences than it is a conviction that draws together and consolidates a community with a sense of purpose and identity.

The second, in that it does not do true justice to the particular texts in the Bible that deal with homosexuality. It claims to have only now shed new light on words and phrases that have already been clearly understood for nearly 2000 years by Christian Biblical scholars. It ignores the wider literary context of the whole Bible, and has a faulty understanding of the cultural milieu of the ancient world in which homosexual relationships, as we call them, did actually occur, and are documented.

The foundation of the Biblical view on sexuality is much deeper than simply the existence of a few statements in the Bible that prohibit or condemn alternate sexual expression. The reason for the Christian view on marriage is not that there are rules in the Bible about it; rather, the rules are an application of a deeper truth that goes right to the heart of who God is, what God’s plan is for the world, and who we are designed to be as human beings.

Now, you may initially wonder how what I am about to explain has anything to do with sexuality, but please ride with me, and I hope you will eventually see where I am going.

It begins with God. What was there before the universe? Some may say ‘nothing’, and suddenly there was everything, and we don’t know how or why it got here. Others – we might call them Theists or Deists – may say the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ is actually God – that before the universe there was nothing plus God, and then God made it all happen, God is the ‘first cause’. The Christian view of things is much richer than this. We say that before the Universe there was Love. The Bible claims that:

‘God is Love’ (John’s letter to Christians, 4:8)

Trinity simple…meaning, God is a relational God; in fact God within Himself is relationship: The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, three persons, bound together as one God by perfect, self giving, intimate love. This is the Christian idea of ‘Trinity’ – a combination of two words: ’Tri’ meaning three, ‘Unity’ meaning one.

This means that God creating the universe was primarily an act of love, and that the universe finds its ultimate purpose in the context of loving relationships. The Bible speaks of God the Father creating the world for His Son, with the desire that everything in the world will be a witness to His goodness and love:

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Paul’s letter to Philippian Christians, 2:9-11)

Into this world God placed a type of creature – human beings – who are made in God’s image. We are uniquely made, designed to be a reflection of the relational love that is at the heart of God’s character. The two greatest commands, affirmed a number of times by Jesus:

‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength’

and,

‘Love your neighbour as yourself,’

…are a simple summary of what it looks like when a human being, living in harmony with the Triune God, is a reflection of God’s character.

Even more than this, we are designed to know our true and ultimate identity as children, relating to God as our Father in a relationship of love, trust and honour. God’s plan for this world that he made, as unfolded in the Bible’s story from beginning to end, is this: that we might know Him as Father, by being united with His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now I acknowledge that that is a statement that may seem to be full of religious jargon; essentially it means that we are made to be part of God’s family, and the way we know that status as children of God is through being united with His Son.

This is where the connection to marriage, gender and sexuality comes in.

We know that marriage is not merely about two individuals. When a person marries, they come into a relationship with their partner’s family. In some ways, they may relate to their partner’s parents as if they were their own parents. You may have heard the cliched phrase uttered by the father of the bride at a wedding, ‘Today we have not so much lost a daughter, as we have gained a son.’

This relationship – the one that we as human beings are designed to have with the Son, and through Him to the Father – is the ultimate relationship, the ultimate marriage; in fact, it is the true marriage. Rather than marriage being a metaphor borrowed by God from human culture to depict something of what our relationship with Him should be like, God specifically designed human beings so that an essential aspect of who and what we are as human beings would serve as a parable – an illustration or image – of this ultimate relationship:

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Paul’s letter to Ephesian Christians, 5:25-32)

The writer here is saying that God’s design – a man and a woman being united in love, with an intimacy so profound that it is as if they have become a single unit – this is a picture of the relationship between God’s Son (‘Christ’), and human beings who have faith in him (‘the church’).

He speaks also of Jesus ‘giving himself up for her’. This refers to two things.

Firstly it speaks of his attitude towards human beings; he prefers to do what is best for us, over and above what may be best for himself, even if that means laying down his life so that we may live.

Secondly, it refers to a specific act in which Jesus did precisely that:

See, as a human race, and as individuals who make up humanity, we have rejected this family relationship with God. We prefer to do things our way, to be the arbiters of what is true or right or good. We are essentially rebel children, rejecting our Father’s loving authority, and refusing to honour or respect Him as he deserves. This means we have estranged ourselves from Him; walked out; left the family; refused to be identified as His children. Our behaviour is a display, or outworking of this attitude towards God; we seek to distort ourselves and the world we live in to escape the fact that we are actually running away for God. If God seems far away, it is we who have moved.

Yet this estrangement and all its consequences is also what we deserve. We deserve to be banished from the home, to be removed from the will, and to no longer be associated with the family name, because we are rebels. And we deserve the ultimate banishment – death – which is exclusion from God’s good and loving presence forever. This may to us sound unloving and ungracious of God, yet, as we have just heard, God’s aim is that we as creatures should be living in a way that gives the honour to the Son that he deserves. A world filled with rebels, whose rebellion is ignored or brushed under the carpet would be anything but honouring. The kind of God that ignores and minimises rebellion, injustice and evil is not the kind of God who can be trusted to run the universe.

Yet, what is God’s response to this rebellion that has driven us away from him? He has done something about it. He has provided the means by which the relationship may be restored; the marriage may be reconciled and healed, the family brought back together again. The Son has come and united himself to our humanity by becoming one of us. By becoming a human being, Jesus of Nazareth, he essentially came to walk in our shoes, to take our place. He lived that life that we have failed to live. And then when he was brutally put to death by those who hated him he face not only rejection from human beings, but abandonment by God, His own Father – the abandonment we deserve to face. Instead of banishing us from the family, the Father instead banished His only son.

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

The sign that Jesus death actually did what he meant it to do was that he was raised from the dead; this was the Father’s stamp of approval on his extreme love, his self giving, sacrificial death; by raising Him he has provided a guarantee for those who are now united to him through faith – trusting in his death and resurrection as the only way for us to be reconciled to the Father and be part of His family. This guarantee is of a relationship that lasts forever, that is deeply satisfying and intensely purposeful, which gives us a knowledge of our true identity and the freedom to live authentically as human beings.

There can be no substitute for traditional marriage as a picture for this relationship God brings us into though Jesus. Any alternative expression of gender or sexual intimacy is a distortion and an obscuring of this great love and mercy shown to us by the God who not only made us, but who gives Himself for us.

However the deciding factor that will determine whether we will know the reality of this relationship is not our particular view or opinion about gender, sexuality or marriage. Rather, it is how we respond the the news of what Jesus has done for us to bring us to God. The stereotype statement, ‘That person will go to Hell because they are a homosexual.’ is false. True, our lifestyle choices are evidence of what is in our heart and where our loyalty lies. Someone who claims to trust in and follow Jesus will be seeking to live a life that reflects his teaching and affirms the same scriptures that he affirmed. However the crucial question here today is not ‘What do you think about gender and sexuality?’ rather it’s ‘What is your response to the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection?

I urge you to ask, explore and seek to come to terms with who He really is, what He has done to bring you into the Father’s family, and how he can transform you and give you a freedom to hear what God says and find fulfilment and joy in living no longer for yourself but for him.

What follows is not a detailed Bible Study; it contains no Bible references as prooftexts. Rather, it is an attempt at a broad overview of the issue, trying to capture the trajectory of the Biblical story and the unfolding revelation of God’s purpose. It started as a facebook comment, but then got too big for its boots, and so it ended up here instead.

In the Old Testament, God gives Israel specific sexuality laws, including the prohibition of homosexual intercourse/relations. For this, the penalty is death by stoning. This is an outworking of the 7th commandment ‘Do not commit adultery’ (Which Jesus shows us in the sermon on the mount is not kept by a simplistic not having sex with someone else’s spouse, but even includes lustful thoughts and possibly the M word), and this 7th commandment is itself founded on the creation of human beings in God’s image as male & female. We also see now that this commandment is much bigger than ‘That’s the way God designed us’ – in that marriage reflects Christ and the Church and God’s big goal for all of history, something that is also hinted at throughout the Old Testament narrative.

So sexual purity is first and foremost about truly reflecting the glory of God, something about which God is extremely jealous, and will defend above everything else. The personal morality and societal benefit is not an end in itself, but a means to a higher, much more glorious and liberating goal. That’s why those things that defaced true marriage received such a harsh penalty. Break the 7th commandment and you essentially slap God in the face. Slap God in the face, and you will get what you deserve: the penalty of death, and the community will clearly understand that God not only defends HIs honour, but He also so loves His people that He will purge evil and injustice from among them.

Then we come to the New Testament. Jesus repeatedly affirms the principle of the 7th commandment, going to Genesis and the creation of man and woman and in some quite strong teaching about divorce. While he does not specifically refer to homosexuality (neither does he mention incest, bestiality, rape etc.), his affirmation of this command shows he affirms all the other applications of it, including the prohibition of homosexuality. ‘Sexual Immorality’ then is a term that covers all the prohibitions of the Torah, not just our modern way of thinking of it as ‘promiscuity’. He makes it clear that God’s standard has not dropped, by even applying extreme measures like cutting off your hand and gouging out your eye – which are given in the context of sexual sin – not as penalties for breaking it, but as examples of how far we must go if we think that we will be able to overcome temptation and sin ourselves. (If you think that the sermon on the mount is the rulebook for Christians to follow, think again. Apply it literally, and you’ll be one eyed and left-handed).

In doing this, Jesus is demonstrating that this commandment is not fulfilled by him in the sense of being made ‘obsolete’ (such as, for example, food laws), but in the sense of him, as the second Adam, perfectly keeping it on our behalf. It’s like he said, ‘Here’s the standard of the law: I’ll raise it to where it truly sits, at a height that you must realise you will never be able to reach because you are sinful, and then I will both keep it on your behalf, and come under the penalty you deserve for not keeping it yourself.’

The Apostles reflect this in their teaching (the Epistles). Paul in Romans uses homosexuality as what seems like the ‘ultimate’ sin in his discussion of humanity’s sinfulness, implying that same sex relations are virtually the lowest we can sink in defacing God’s good design. This is connected to his presentation in Ephesians of human marriage as a picture of Christ and the Church – deface marriage, and you slap God in the face and trash His purpose in Christ. We are called to sexual purity, and the honouring of marriage and family, and to distance ourselves from the world’s expressions of sexuality that are more about personal pleasure and ritual idol worship than they are about loving God and our neighbour.

A Christian is one who seeks to do all things to the Glory of God; as one who loves God they seek to obey His commands, not simply for pragmatic purposes, but in order to proclaim the excellencies of Him who has redeemed them. Homosexuality is abhorrent for a child of God, not because they fear stoning, or even because it may damage the wellbeing of society, but because it trashes the Gospel of the Son who laid down His life for his beloved bride, and who invites those who live by faith in him to attend the ‘wedding supper of the lamb,’ which will be in the new Heavens and new Earth.

So the 7th commandment has been transformed from a prohibition mandating stoning, to a glorious expression of the goodness and faithfulness of a Husband who will never commit adultery against his Bride, and a Bride who so loves the Husband who laid down his life for her that she desires to honour and respect Him by remaining pure in every way.