Posts Tagged ‘theology’

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.

The world tells us that a successful program is big and bright and noisy. We buy into it, and think that God’s not working unless our meetings are big, the singing is loud, and people leave talking about the ‘experience’. That’s called a ‘Theology of glory’. It’s what Paul was fighting against in the churches that had been taken over by the ‘Super Apostles’.

However, a ‘Theology of the Cross’ says that we know God is at work when people begin to reflect the character of Christ. Humilty, patience, gentleness, self sacrifice, ‘He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street…’ (Is. 42:2).

So I think that what Tim Keller says here is very true, and if we took note of it we might recognise the revivals taking place in our small, humble, quiet churches where people come week-in week-out to hear the proclaimed word, be an encouragement to each other as they wait for the Day of the Lord, and go out humbly to love, serve and share Christ with their neighbours.

misused bible

The verse:

“Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Acts 2:38

How it’s misused:

Salvation is made to be conditional: ‘God will forgive you provided you repent and get baptised.’

The Holy Spirit is treated like a commodity; something we can get by following the right formula.

What it’s really saying:

The ‘for’ in ‘for the forgiveness of your sins’ (Greek: eis) does not mean ‘in order to get’, as if the repentance and baptism will make forgiveness happen; rather it conveys the idea of, ‘because of,’ or, ‘in light of.’ So the call to repentance, and the physical act of baptism (a demonstration of repentance) is in view of the fact that forgiveness has already come. It’s because God has forgiven us in Christ that we repent.

The gift of the Holy Spirit is not so much an individual event that happens multiple times, as the global, New Covenant event of the Father pouring out the Holy Spirit upon His people – the event that was inaugurated at Pentecost and has be continuing ever since – we are living now in the fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy. Peter here is speaking corporately to Jewish people who knew this promise, and was assuring them that this promised Holy Spirit has come. Notice that receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit here is not a result of their repentance as much as a simultaneous event. It is actually an assurance that they will be able to repent because the Gift of the Spirit has come, and it is He who enables them to respond to the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins.

Isaiah 53

In my earlier post, I spoke about how the Messiah is a saviour – in the sense of dealing with the evil, suffering, injustice and chaos of this world. The King/Son of Man would defeat the enemies of God, who by association are the enemies of God’s people, and bring peace and justice to the whole creation.

This is however only one side of Messiah’s saving work. It’s the side that the disciples (and the Jews) got: they understood Psalm 2 &110. What they didn’t get was Isaiah 53 – or rather that the suffering servant is the Messiah, and that Jesus embodied both. This is why Jesus commended Peter for his confession of him as Christ/Son of God, but rebuked him when Peter refused to accept that the Messiah must die.

Isaiah 53 speaks of another aspect of salvation – from the righteous wrath of God. When we read the OT we cannot avoid the fact that God’s wrath is expressed against those who He calls his own people. Even as God was rescuing them from Egypt and making a covenant with them, calling them His people and He their God, it was made very clear to them that there was still a barrier between Him and them: no-one was allowed to even touch the mountain or they would die; no-one but Moses could enter the tent of meeting; and the priests were required to offer bloody sacrifices to deal with people’s sin. The Israelites were constantly selling themselves out to idolatry and forsaking God, showing that their hearts were far from Him, to the point where in His anger He sent them into exile.

All of these things were signs to Israel (and to us, as we look back) that the ‘physical’ aspects of God’s salvation – Land, offspring, prosperity, kingdom, etc. were only pointers to the heart of salvation – salvation from sin, and form the wrath that sin deserves. The history of God’s anger tells us, among other things, that in order to be truly God’s people, the fact of sin and wrath need to be dealt with.

There would have been no doubt in the Israelite’s mind as they went to the temple of three things:

  1. Sin is serious. The sight of an animal being slaughtered, it’s blood drained, its guts ripped open and its carcass being consumed by fire may sound to us to be macabre, bloody, primitive, crass and obscene; this is because sin is macabre, bloody, primitive, crass and obscene and the sacrifice is an image of what sin both does and deserves.
  2. Sin can only be justly dealt with by death. Because God is Love, He is also just. He demands, in His holy Love, that all offences against Himself and against His creation be punished. The scales of justice must be balanced, or God would not be good.
  3. Therefore the only way that God’s justice be satisfied, and a guilty, vile, wretched sinner such as I be saved, is if a substitute is provided, who pays my own debt and receives the wages of death that I have earned. This is what the sacrificial system pictured: what we call penal substitutionary atonement.

This is why the Messiah had to die, if he were to be truly the saviour. Setting up an earthly kingdom in the place of the Romans would not change a thing – it would just be a repeat of the Old Testament; another loop in the cycle, since the hearts of people would be still the same.

This is why, when Jesus was about to be arrested and crucified, he said, ‘The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified!’ (John 12:23, 13:31).

The glory of Jesus is the glory of the cross – the amazing grace and love demonstrated in his self sacrifice. Has it captivated your heart?