According to the Scriptures (Part Five)
There’s a modern hymn which describes Jesus like this: “You, who preach a way that’s narrow, have a love that reaches wide.”
Narrow and wide – How does this apply to the current debate concerning same-sex relations? We need to remember that the report presented to the General Assembly focused on “Same-Sex Relations and the Ministry.” We must not lose sight of this focus on the Ministry.
Why is it important that we maintain our focus on the Ministry?
When we maintain our focus on the Ministry, we can see more clearly the difference between (a) a strong commitment to the authority of God’s Word; and (b) an authoritarian approach that is rightly criticized as a Bible-thumping “bull in a china shop” approach.
In a world shaped by pluralism, many people don’t regard the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. We may have to have a more “hands off” approach.
We could easily end up in a confrontational situation – “You tell me what you feel. I’ll tell you what the Bible says” is followed by the reply, “I don’t accept what the Bible says.” We do not commend the Gospel of grace when we try to compel people to live by the Bible when they tell us that they don’t believe the Bible.
In our pluralistic society, we dare not adopt an authoritarian stance by which, on the basis of our beliefs, we impose our standards on others and deny them their civil rights.
Whatever we may say about the civil rights which people have (e.g. employment opportunities), we must also ask about God’s right to speak to us about the way we live our life.
In our discussion of “Same-Sex Relations and the Ministry” we must emphasize that serving the Lord as a Minister of the Gospel should not be viewed as one “employment opportunity” among others. It should be seen as a divine calling. To look at the call to the Ministry solely in terms of civil rights does not pay sufficient attention to the divine calling which calls for a life lived according to the Scriptures. When we think of the call to the Ministry, we are perfectly entitled, on the basis of Scripture, to raise questions about the kind of life someone, called to the Ministry, lives.
When we move beyond the Ministry aspect of this debate to the question of blessings on civil partnerships (or civil marriages as it seems they are going to be called), we must distinguish between (a) the question of conducting such services; and (b) our general attitude towards people in same-sex relations.
We may hold firmly that we cannot, in good conscience, conduct services of blessing on same-sex relations. Why? – When we read Paul’s words in Romans 1:26-27, we do not feel free to disagree with what he has written there. When we read Jesus’ words – “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11), we feel that we cannot pronounce a blessing (God’s blessing, not just our blessing) on a way of life from which God, in His Word, calls His people to draw back.
This does not mean that we adopt a hostile attitude towards people in same-sex relations.
Whatever we may think about their way of life, we must recognize that God’s common grace is at work in the whole of society while His saving grace is at work only among those who have come in faith to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Encouraged by the working of God’s common grace, let us be faithful in prayer that His saving grace will be more widely accepted in our society.
We may be tempted to forget that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). We dare not adopt the proud attitude that says of anyone, “Such people must never be allowed to darken the doors of our Church.”
Such arrogance can have no place among those who have been saved by grace. We are called to reach out with grace – but it’s not a grace that leaves people where it finds them. It’s saving grace which leads to holy living.
When we begin to think of ourselves as superior to other people – more like the Pharisees (eager to stone) than Jesus (ready to forgive), we need to be reminded of what the who we are (sinners) and what the Lord has done for us (He has saved us).
"the church may not function as a fearful border guard, but rather as one who brings good tidings (Rom. 10:15; Is. 52:7) .... For Christ died for us 'while we were yet sinners, while we were enemies' (Rom. 5:8,10). All hardness, imprudence and rashness can only be signs that she has forgotten the gracious overstepping of the boundaries at her birth" [G. C. Berkouwer, "The Church" (Grand Rapids, 1976), p. 162].
In the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, we see compassion – “Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:11). This compassion is not spineless sentimentalism. It is compassion without compromise – “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11).
It seems that same-sex relations are more widespread than ever.
We are to show the love of Christ to all people. This includes people in same-sex relations. The Gospel we proclaim is for all people – “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).
The fact that same-sex relations seem to be more widespread than ever doesn’t mean that we should attempt to rewrite the Bible.
If someone has been saved by grace, called to holiness and called to serve the Lord, the message should be made clear, “This is what the Bible says about Christian living, and it is of the utmost relevance to the way you live your life if you are called to be a servant of the Lord.”
This is the point which lies at the very heart of the discussion concerning “Same-Sex Relations and the Ministry.”