Sunday, August 17, 2014

homosexual glutton

Robert A. Gagnon wrote a great piece a couple of years ago in response to the common comparison between homosexuality and gluttony. It is long but worth the read since we must be wise to deal with the smoke and mirrors thrown up by the enemy. It is too easy to become ensnared in their craftiness.

Here is Gagnon's article:

On July 5, 2012 CNN posted an op-ed piece on its Belief Blog site one of the silliest arguments that I have read in a long time, entitled “My Take: Will there be gays in heaven? Will there be fat people?” The piece was by Craig Gross, who is described as “the pastor and founder of and … the author of seven books.” Apparently Rev. Gross ministers to the porn industry. Given Jesus’ outreach to sexual sinners, this is an honorable ministry, so long as he calls people graciously and lovingly to repentance and gently warns of the eternal consequences of unrepentant sexual immorality. Even in the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus tells the woman “Go, and from now on no longer be sinning” (John 8:11), a statement that, based on a parallel command in John 5:14, implies “lest something worse happen to you,” namely, forfeiture of eternal life.

My concern is with Gross’s comparison of homosexual practice with overeating or (as he puts it) being “fat.” He is not the first evangelical Christian to attempt the analogy. Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International (an umbrella organization for ministries that help people to leave a homosexual life) is fond of comparing homosexual practice to gluttony (most recently as reported in a July 6, 2012 New York Times article).

Gross’s misuse of 1 Corinthians 6:13 to say the opposite

Gross uses Paul’s remark in 1 Corinthians 6:13 as his main proof text. As it happens, Paul is making the exact opposite point in that text.
“Foods are for the stomach and the stomach is for foods, and God will put out of work both this (stomach) and these (foods).” But the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.[1]
The vast majority of English Bible versions and commentators on 1 Corinthians rightly treat the first half of the verse, or at least the first quarter (“Food for the stomach and the stomach for foods”), as a slogan concocted either by the Corinthian pneumatics (spiritual people) or by Paul to represent or satirize the Corinthian position.[2]

Paul fears that some believers at Corinth might be drawing a parallel between the spiritual irrelevance of food and an alleged spiritual irrelevance of sexual immorality. Paul is disagreeing with the view that sexual immorality is analogous to food. The body, Paul says, can eat all kinds of food and it matters not for purposes of spiritual life. But sexual immorality (Gk. porneia) is a different story entirely. While the belly is intended to consume food, the body is not intended for sexual immorality (6:13b). Although the belly will not be resurrected, the body will be (6:14), albeit transformed into a material “spiritual body” (15:44). Moreover, what one does sexually affects the body holistically and morally, unlike the eating of food. This is Paul’s point in 6:18:
Every (other) sin, whatever a person does, is outside of the body; but the one who commits sexual immorality sins against [Gk. eis, literally, ‘into’] his own body.[3]
Other actions may injure the body but not to the extent of becoming “one body” or “one flesh” with another in an immoral sexual act (6:16). In a perverse way, the believer who is joined in an illicit sexual union to another involves the indwelling Christ with whom the believer is joined in “one spirit” (6:15, 17). Because the act of sexual intercourse is designed by God to join two into one, even withdrawal from the immoral relationship can have long-term negative effects on the conscience, such as a feeling of loss and alienation from the former partner and a deep sense of guilt. In commenting on this verse, John Calvin notes: “Other sins do not leave the same filthy stain on our bodies as immoral sexual intercourse does.”[4]

Gross’s misguided claim of inconsistency

When Gross erroneously concludes from 1 Cor 6:13 that gluttony and homosexual practice are comparable sins, he means not that gluttony is as bad as homosexual practice but rather that homosexual practice is no worse than gluttony. “Ultimately,” Gross writes, “I believe homosexuality gets blown way out of proportion in our churches.” Would Gross say the same about a man sleeping with his mother? Paul wouldn’t say that about either incest or homosex.

Ultimately, Gross’s position is closer to that of the Corinthians than to that of Paul. I am afraid that his op-ed piece reflects some of that “puffed up” or “inflated with pride” approach of the Corinthian pneumatics (1 Cor 5:2), who at best thought this particular case of incest to be a minor offense and at worse no offense at all. The “spiritual people” among the Corinthians prided themselves for not getting so ‘shook up’ (to use our idiom) about such an extreme sexual matter in their midst. Well, Paul got all ‘shook up.’ He told the Corinthians that they should be mourning instead, indicating to them that the man’s eternal life was at stake (5:2, 5; 6:9-10). Most Christians today happen to think that Paul, and not the Corinthian “strong,” acted rightly.

Gross goes on to bemoan the following alleged inconsistency:
If you indulge your body with sex via pornography, affairs, strippers or hookers, and your secrets are exposed, you will not be preaching on Sunday. Sexual sin is not tolerated in our churches. If clergy are caught in these things, they’re disqualified. What if you indulge your body with food? Well, then you can pastor some of the largest churches on the planet and have the most successful broadcasts on the religious channels and sell a lot of books.
One can only conclude that Gross holds either of the following untenable conclusions:

1. Pastors engaged in unrepentant sexual immorality of any and every sort should be able to continue in the pastorate without repenting of their immoral activities.

2. Fat pastors should be removed from the pulpit.

Presumably, based on the train of Gross’s argument, he is in favor of the former. So, to be consistent, Gross must think that if a pastor were having sex with his mother, multiple partners concurrently, someone in addition to a spouse, a prostitute, or even a child, and either didn’t repent or kept falling back into such activity, that pastor should not only remain in office but also be blessed with a prosperous pastorate. All of this follows if, as Gross claims, no sexual sin is worse than overeating.

Gross’s erroneous claim that every sin is the same and should be handled the same way

Gross adds:
Same biblical passage, same sin. Why is one [gluttony] accepted and one [sexual immorality] rejected? … Why do they believe that the gay guy goes to hell but the fat preacher who builds some of the largest churches in the world makes it to heaven? I have no problem bringing my fat friends to church; they fit right in. Our Los Angeles church has doughnuts to eat during worship service, which makes the hymns we sing sound so much better.
Gross’s questions are easy to answer: The reason is that serial-unrepentant sexual immorality of an egregious sort is much more of an indication of a life controlled by sin than is the act of overeating. Even Gross must know this. Take his example at the end of his paragraph. His church leaves out “doughnuts to eat during worship service” (we’ll leave aside the oddity of eating during a worship service). Eating doughnuts can bring on weight gain while providing no nutrition (but they are delicious; in fact, I’m having a hankering for some right now). Does Gross really regard this accommodation by his church as comparable to setting aside rooms in the church where people can go to commit fornication, sex with prostitutes, adultery, three-way sex, incest, homosexual practice, pedophilia, and bestiality? If he did, he would be perverse. And, for the record, eating several doughnuts in a single venue is not a sin.

Gross adds:
Homosexual activity and overeating are both sins – just like speeding, gossip, lying and cheating. I think I did all of those just today. All are forgivable in Christ and, with the leading of the Holy Spirit, can be changed. Just remember that change does not happen overnight.
Did you catch Gross’s sleight of hand? He compared homosexual practice with a series of what most regard as relatively minor offenses, at least potentially (though if Gross did all of them in one day he should probably ‘up his game’ a bit and take these matters a tad more seriously). Imagine instead if he had said the following:
Homosexual practice and overeating are both sins—just like committing adultery (not just of the heart), being in a consensual sexual relationship with one’s mother, raping women and children, cutting open people’s bodies while they are still alive and dumping them in the river, and robbing banks and kidnapping at gunpoint. I think I did all of those today. All are forgivable in Christ and, with the leading of the Holy Spirit, can be changed. Just remember that change does not happen overnight.
Most people would react to such a comparison with a deep sense of moral outrage, not least of all people like Gross who contend that all sin is equal. How dare you compare homosexual practice to truly heinous offenses, Dr. Gagnon! And then they would have made my point. No one really believes that all sin is equally heinous. And if a member of Gross’s church were involved in any of these serious offenses, I would wager (if I were a betting man!) that not even Gross would retain the caveat, “Just remember that change does not happen overnight.” No, that incest, rape, murder, etc., better stop today.

Any sin can get one excluded from God’s kingdom if one thinks that one can earn salvation through personal merit or make do without Jesus’ amends-making death and life-giving resurrection. Yet that doesn’t mean that all sin is equally offensive to God in all respects. Put differently, Christ’s universal coverage of sin through his death on the cross does not mean that all sins are equal in all respects but only that all sins are equal in one respect: They are all covered. By way of analogy, one may have health coverage for all injuries great and small and pay the same amount for the coverage regardless of the injury; but that doesn’t mean that no one injury is more severe than any other injury.

The Bible is clear that some sins are worse than others. Jesus clearly spoke about greater and lesser commandments (Matt 5:19; Mark 12:28-31), weightier matters of the law (Matt 23:23), some people loving more because they were forgiven more (Luke 7:36-50), and a blasphemy against the Spirit that could not be forgiven (Mark 3:28-30). This is in keeping with different grades of punishment for different sins in the Old Testament (including different tiers of sexual offenses in Lev 20) as well as references to the “great sin” of the Golden Calf episode (Exod 32:30) and “greater abominations” (Ezekiel 8:6, 13, 15). Paul obviously treats a case of incest at Corinth as a particularly great offense (1 Cor 5) and speaks of different degrees of wrong actions meriting different penalties (1 Cor 3:10-17).

The Bible gives many indications that homosexual practice is regarded as a particularly severe sexual offense: (1) the fact that Jesus viewed a male-female prerequisite for sexual relations in Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 as foundational for extrapolating other principles of sexual ethics like the limitation of the number of persons in a sexual union to two (Mark 10:6-9 // Matt 19:4-6); (2) the special attention (second only to idolatry in position and amount of attention [1:24-27]) and highly pejorative description that Paul gives to homosexual practice in the listing of Gentile vices in Romans 1:18-32 (a form of “sexual impurity” that is “degrading” or “dishonorable,” “contrary to nature,” “shameful behavior” that is fit “payback” for straying from God); (3) the fact that, apart from a prohibition of bestiality, the male-female requirement for sexual relations is the only sexual requirement held absolutely for the people of God from creation to Christ (something that can’t be said for monogamy or even anti-incest prohibitions); (4) the strong rejection of homosexual practice put forward in Lev 18:22 (which makes a special point of tagging man-male intercourse as an “abomination” among “abominations”) and Lev 20:13 (which lists homosexual practice among a first tier of sexual offenses: adultery, the worst forms of incest, and bestiality); (5) the fact that a real or attempted act of man-male intercourse figures prominently in a triad of stories about extreme depravity—Ham’s offense against his father Noah (Gen 9:20-27), the attempted sexual assault of male visitors by the men of Sodom (Gen 19:4-11), and the attempted sexual assault of the Levite passing through Gibeah (Judg 19:22-25; compare Ezek 16:50; Jude 7; 2 Pet 2:6-10); (6) confirmation for the particular severity of the offense of homosexual practice in ancient Israel from Jewish texts of the Second Temple period and beyond; and (7) the fact that leading interpreters of Scripture in the Church for over two millennia (including the Church Fathers and the Reformers) understood the Bible to treat homosexual practice as an extremely grave offense.[5] Those who claim that homosexual practice is no worse than any other sexual sin need to wrestle with each of these arguments.

How should the church respond to self-affirming, homosexually active “gay Christians”

I agree with Gross that “God loves gays” and that persons who engage in homosexual practice need to have exposure to the gospel in order to be changed. That means opening the doors of the church to them. However, like anyone else engaged in severe and unrepentant immorality, they should not be allowed to become members until they repent of the behavior. Otherwise, if one were to follow Paul’s advice in 1 Cor 5:4-5, the unrepentant new member would then have to be immediately put on church discipline (5:11). In addition, if a homosexual couple comes to church, they must refrain from expressing romantic affections to one another (for example, no kissing one another on the lips in the church). No one should be allowed to parade their immorality in the church. Paul’s remarks in 1 Thess 4:3-8 suggest that he would have concurred with the provision of the Apostolic Decree that Gentile membership in the church be conditional on “abstaining from sexual immorality” (compare Acts 15:19-20, 28-31).[6]

Is gluttony even a sin? Another look at Scripture

As we saw above, Paul’s remarks about food and sexual immorality in 1 Cor 6:12-20 suggest that the eating of food is not—in and of itself—a matter of moral significance. This is not the only text in Scripture that makes that point.

Later in 1 Corinthians Paul states:

Now food will not affect our standing before God. Neither if we do not eat are we lacking nor if we eat are we abounding. (8:8)[7]

Paul would certainly not have said, “Sexual immorality will not affect our standing before God.” On the contrary, in 1 Cor 5-6 Paul insists that the community disassociate with sexually immoral, self-acknowledged “brothers” in the faith who do not repent; and Paul puts “sexually immoral people” first on an offender list warning about not inheriting God’s kingdom. Undoubtedly, there were some “fat Christians” at Corinth—as in virtually every church that ever existed—but Paul says not a word about them. Still later in the letter Paul recounted to the Corinthian believers the Old Testament story of the destruction of the wilderness generation as God’s judgment for their involvement in idolatry and sexual immorality. “These things,” Paul said, “were written for our admonition…. So let the one who thinks that he stands watch out lest he falls” (10:11-12). It is no accident that the two “flee” statements in the letter are “Flee sexual immorality” (6:18) and “Flee from idolatry” (10:14), not “Flee gluttony.”

We see the same picture in Paul’s letter to the Romans. In Romans 14 Paul tells the Roman believers not to judge one another over matters of food (here specifically over whether to eat meat or abstain from it altogether) since food is a matter of indifference. “The kingdom of God does not consist of food and drink but righteousness ...” (14:17). Paul did not regard sexual immorality as a matter of indifference. In the previous chapter he warns the Roman believers to put off “the works of darkness,” including “sexual misbehaviors [Gk. koitai] and licentious acts” (13:12-13). Earlier still in the letter he listed homosexual practice (1:24-27) as a serious example of “sexual impurity” (Gk. akatharsia), an offense against nature that paralleled idolatry as suppressions of the truth about God and ourselves self-evident through observation of the material structures of creation made by God (1:18-23). In 6:19 he reminded Roman believers not to be slaves of “sexual impurity” any longer lest they reap the wages of sin, death (6:21, 23).

What about Jesus? Did he liken food to sexual immorality? No, in fact, he did the opposite when he stated that it was not so much the unclean food that people ingest that defiles them as gratifying the immoral desires within to do what God expressly prohibits. Three of the vices that Jesus is said to have listed were sexual in nature: “sexual immoralities (porneiai) … adulteries (moicheiai) … licentiousness (aselgeia)” (Mark 7:21-23). Food doesn’t defile; committing sexual immorality does. The only time the matter of gluttony comes up in the Gospels is when Jesus himself is accused of it, apparently for eating too much at his “messianic meals” with “sinners and tax collectors” (Matthew 11:19 // Luke 7:34).

Yet isn’t gluttony among “the seven deadly (or cardinal) sins”? Yes, but the list derives from Pope Gregory I in 590, with antecedents tracing back to the fourth-century monk Evagrius Ponticus.[8] There is no vice list in the New Testament that includes gluttony. Moreover, even in Catholic tradition the seven cardinal sins are not on the list because they are the worse sins but because they are regarded as the originators of other sins. Depending on their particular manifestation, cardinal sins can be either venial (i.e., relatively minor) or mortal (jeopardizing salvation). It is interesting that Gross cites gluttony as comparable to homosexual practice when the Catholic tradition from which the sin of gluttony derives can view the former as venial and the latter as mortal. The truly dangerous sin that could result from gluttony is not weight gain but drifting from devotion to God, sexual immorality, or failing to aid the poor and needy.

The references to gluttony in Scripture bear out the view that the main concern with gluttony has to do with something other than the gluttony per se: namely, the immoral or ungodly state of which gluttony may be a symptom or the sins to which gluttony may lead.

In Deut 21:20 it is paired with drunkenness as a mark of a “stubborn and rebellious son” whose persistent disobedience to his parents and refusal to comply with parental discipline manifests itself in dissolute living that in turn publicly dishonors his parents. Similarly, Proverbs 28:7 contrasts “companions of gluttons shame their parents” with “those who keep the law are wise children.” Disconnected from a spirit of rebellion toward authority or law and from a state of intoxication, overeating would probably not merit mention. Proverbs 23:20-21 warns that a glutton and drunkard “will come to poverty” become of the resulting drowsiness that overtakes him. “A fool when he is stuffed with food” appears in Prov 30:22 as an image of someone who (pardon the pun) bites off more than he can chew.

The adage “Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die” (Isa 22:13; alluded to in parables in Luke 12:19, 45 and quoted in 1 Cor 15:32) characterizes a life lived solely for self-gratification and without regard for God, morality, or a day of judgment. Ezekiel 16:49-50 refers to Sodom’s “oversatiation of food” but Sodom’s sin is not that her inhabitants gained weight but rather that an excess of food led to complacency and a haughty disregard of the poor and needy, climaxing in the “abomination” of attempting to emasculate vulnerable male visitors through sexual penetration. Failure to help the poor and emasculating visitors through homosexual rape are the severe offenses here, not the overeating per se.[9]According to Daniel 1, the diet of vegetables and water embraced by Daniel, Shadrach, and Abednego when they were being trained as young men in the court of King Nebuchadnezzar left them in better shape and with greater wisdom than the other young trainees who were fed “the royal rations of food and wine.”

The Old Testament Apocrypha, a collection of Jewish works from ca. 200 ca. 130 A.D., speaks about gluttony. The Jewish sage Yeshua ben Sira (ca. 200B.C.) advised moderation in eating so that one could avoid a sleepless night, nausea, and colic (Sirach 31:20). The author of Fourth Maccabees (mid-1st to early 2nd cent. A.D.) took a more philosophical approach. In 1:3 gluttony is paired with “(sexual?) desire” (epithumia) as two examples of “emotions that hinder self-control” and thwart “reason”; similarly, in 2:7 where “glutton” is paired with “drunkard.”

In 1 Cor 11:17-34 (the abuse of the Lord’s Supper) the issue is not that some at Corinth are gaining weight from overeating. The issue is that wealthier members of the Corinthian church are shaming poorer members by consuming most of the food at the community meal before the poor believers can arrive. The result is that “while one is hungry, another is drunk.” So Paul commands them to “eat at home” if they lack the self-control to hold their appetite in check long enough to “wait for” the “have-nots” to arrive. In that way there can be an equitable distribution of food. The reference in Phil 3:19 to those “whose god is their stomach” is likely being applied ironically not to gluttons but to the Judaizing missionaries in 3:2-6 who emphasize adherence to food restrictions in the law of Moses (compare the next line, “[whose] glory is in their shame,” probably an allusion to a circumcision requirement).

As can be seen from the passages above, being overweight is not the issue. Overeating becomes a moral problem only when it makes one insensate either to the demands of God or to the needs of people. Usually it doesn’t lead to such an outcome unless the overeating is accompanied by drunkenness, the latter being a more effective vehicle for losing self-control. Then it is the consequences of the overeating, and not the overeating itself, that puts a person at odds with God. Comparing gluttony to acts of immoral sexual intercourse, including a pattern of self-affirming homosexual practice, trivializes sin and makes of mockery of God’s holy demand.

Robert A. J. Gagnon is a professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, with degrees from Dartmouth College, Harvard Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics(Abingdon Press, 2001) and (with Dan Via) Homosexuality and the Bible: Two Views (2003). He has published a number of articles in academic journals and entries in encyclopedias; and has been quoted in the New York Times, National Public Radio, CNN, and other news outlets. He is currently working on a spirituality of the New Testament and a commentary on Romans.

[1] All translations of New Testament texts from the original Greek are my own.

[2] Most commentators of 1 Corinthians put quotation marks around the first half of the verse (so, for example, Joseph Fitzmyer, Anthony Thiselton, Raymond, Collins, Richard Hays, Ben Witherington, Gordon Fee, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Hans Conzelmann, C. K. Barrett; also NET, TNIV), while most English Bible versions do so around only the first quarter (RSV, NRSV, ESV, NAB, NIV, REB, HCSB, CJB, CEV, NLT). David Garland does not view any part of 6:13 as a Corinthian slogan but he does agree that Paul is showing that, while the food that a believer eats is morally irrelevant, sexual immorality is “a grave sin.”

[3] The qualifying remark that Paul makes in the second half of the verse makes clear that Paul means something like “every other sin, excepting immoral sexual intercourse,” granting also a bit of hyperbole on Paul’s part (there is no word for “other” in the Greek text; it must be assumed by the context; so RSV, ESV, NASB, NAB, NIV, REB, NJB, CJB, NLT, Anthony Thiselton, David Garland). Or, less likely, the statement “every sin … outside the body” could be another instance of a Corinthian slogan where the meaning is: “The body has nothing to do with sin” (so NET, HCSB, Jerome Murphy-O’Connor, Charles Talbert, Richard Hays, Joseph Fitzmyer). Either way, Paul is qualifying a Corinthian view by asserting that sexual immorality is indeed a sin “against” or “into” (Gk. eis) the body.

[4] The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Calvin’s NT Commentaries 9; trans. J. W. Fraser; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1960), 131-32. I replaced the translation "fornication" with "immoral sexual intercourse" as a more accurate rendition.

[5] For further discussion of these points go to pp. 15-25 of my online article “Time for a Change of Leadership at Exodus?” at

[7] Some scholars put quotes from “food” to “God” to indicate a Corinthian slogan. But since the next clause clearly reflects Paul’s own view and is not introduced by a contrasting “But,” this clause too is likely Paul’s view.

[8] Proverbs 6:16-19 lists seven things that the Lord detests. Gluttony is not one of them.

[9] Note that for the narrator of the Sodom story the difference between a man who has homosexual practice forced on him and a man who willingly receives it is that the former is unwillingly emasculated and not culpable while the latter willingly has himself emasculated and is culpable.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

church discipline

I found Doug Wilson's post (below) on Church Discipline helpful. I also found it timely as I consider feedback regarding my response to so-called Christian gay marriage.


A church that does not or cannot discipline errant members of the congregation is a church with AIDS. It has no means of fighting off infections—whether those infections are moral or doctrinal or both. The infections can be in the heart or the head, but the church has to be able to deal with them.

To change the image, the church is constituted by Word and sacrament. A large number in the reformation tradition have also added discipline to this, but I would prefer to think of the garden itself as growing Word and sacrament only. Discipline is the fence that keeps the deer out. Discipline is not part of the very definition of the church, but without a fence, you won’t have a garden for very long. Fences are essential to gardens, but don’t themselves grow in the garden.

Obviously, a message like this is being preached for a reason—we do have some possible discipline cases in process, and we wanted you to be prepared for this as a congregation. But know that we do not operate on a hair trigger, and we would be delighted to have this be a message that turns out to be more theological than practical.

The Text:

“I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person’” (1 Cor. 5:9-13).

Summary of the Text:

Christians often get this text exactly backwards. Paul says that of course we are going to have to associate with dissolute pagans—but we try hard to be prissy about that kind of thing. And he says that we must of course not associate with those inside the church who live like this. This is in fact what distinguishes Christian morality from dry rot moralism. The former guards inside, the latter guards against the other. Pay special attention to that phrase near the end—do you not judge those who are inside? But what happens if we are diligent in this? Trying to guard the church against hypocritical profession is a sure fire way to draw the charge of . . . hypocrisy. Think about it for a moment.

The Five Reasons for Discipline:

First, we are to discipline in order to glorify God, and this occurs because obedience glorifies God. We know from His Word that God intends discipline for His church (Matt. 18:15-19; Rom. 16:17; 1 Cor. 5; 1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; 1 Tim. 5:20; 6:3; Tit. 1:13; 2:15; 3:10; Rev. 2:2, 14-15, 20). God tells us what to do, and because we are His people we are called to obey Him. This answers the objection, “Who do you think you are?” We do not discipline in our own name, or on our own authority.

In the second place, we are to discipline in order to maintain the purity of the church. If we measure the “success” of discipline by whether or not the offender is restored, we will be forced to conclude that sometimes it “didn’t work.” But conducted biblically, church discipline always purifies the church (1 Cor. 5:6-8). It also prevents the profanation of the Lord’s Table (1 Cor. 11:27). It always works.

Third, we are to discipline to prevent God from setting Himself against the church. If we have a choice to distance ourselves from sin, and we choose rather to identify ourselves with it, then what will a holy God do with us (Rev. 2:14-25)?

Fourth, we are to discipline in a desire to restore the offender. We are not promised that the offender will be restored, but this end is nonetheless one of our goals. But at the same time I put this reason fourth for a reason. This rationale is clearly set forth in Scripture (Matt. 18:15; 1 Cor. 5:5; Gal. 6:1). This answers those who think “discipline is harsh and unloving.” The goal is not to destroy the offender; the goal is a confrontation in which we formally protest the fact that the offender is destroying himself.

And last, we are to discipline in order to deter others from sin. The Bible teaches that consequences for sin deter (Ecc. 8:11; 1 Tim. 5:20). The objection here is that “people sure wouldn’t want to mention any of their spiritual problems around those elders!” But the issue in discipline is always impenitence. But if he struggles against sin, as all of us do, then he will find nothing in church discipline except an aid and comfort in that struggle.


Many misunderstand what is actually being done in discipline, or what discipline requires. Discipline is not necessarily shunning or avoiding. It is rather avoiding company on the other’s terms. The heart of church discipline is a refusal of the Supper, which is why church discipline is called excommunication. The person is exiled from (ex) the Table of the Lord (communion). So the individual under discipline is denied access to the Lord’s Supper, as well as that general communion which that Supper seals. The offender must not be denied kindness, courtesy, opportunity to hear the Word preached, the practical duties owed to him by others, or anything else due him according to the law of love. Fundamentally, he is being denied only one thing: the right to define the authority of the Christian faith for himself.

Discipline is inescapable. Either we will discipline those who love what is sinful, or we will discipline those who love what is righteous. But as long as the antithesis between the two exists (which is to say throughout history) we must choose one way or the other. A refusal to discipline those who are threatening the integrity of the church is actually a form of discipline directed against those who love the peace and purity of the church, and who labor and pray for it.

One last thing—the encouragement that is found in this. The doctrine of adoption should be precious to us. And the Bible teaches that absence of discipline is a serious indication that God has not adopted us—which is far more terrifying than the prospect of discipline. This truth applies equally to congregations as to individuals.

“Ye have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin. And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth. If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not? But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons. Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness. Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby. Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.” (Hebrews 12:4–13).

What then should our response to discipline be? God is our Father, Christ our brother. Therefore, lift up your hands that were hanging down. Strengthen your feeble knees. Walk on the straight path, with Christ just ahead of you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

insights into idolatry

JD Greear on 5 Insights into Idolatry:

There are certain themes in Scripture that tend to beat you over the head with their persistence. Idolatry is one of those. It’s such a prominent theme in Scripture that some have said it is the central theme of the entire Bible.[1] And when it comes to idolatry, we humans are endlessly creative. As John Calvin said, “The heart of man is a perpetual factory of idols.” Give us the chance, and we’ll replace God with any and every object, person, ideal, or dream.

Most modern people don’t quite get the Bible’s obsession with idolatry. We think of idolatry as an ancient problem for backwards people who bowed down to statues, not a relevant one for sophisticated folks like us. But we aren’t beyond idolatry. We simply dress it up in different clothes.

Acts 19 gives us 5 insights into the reality of idolatry for us today:

1. An idol is anything that promises a life of security and joy apart from God.

In Acts 19, Artemis is described as the “protector” and “prosperer” of Ephesus. With her, the Ephesians believed, they were guaranteed security and joy. This false hope is precisely what makes an idol an idol. Idols are not usually bad things, but good things that have becomeultimate things—things you believe guarantee you joy and security.

What is that in your life? About what do you think, “As long as I havethis, I’ll have happy”? What do you so desperately need that you can’t imagine a fulfilled life without it?

What makes these idols so dangerous is that they are nearly always goodthings. I have seen the good of desiring marriage become a false god. I’ve seen the good of wanting to provide become the idol of always needing to achieve one more financial benchmark. The problem isn’t the money or the marriage. The problem comes when we trust in those things to satisfy.

2. Idols engage the deepest emotions in our hearts.

When idols are challenged, people get violent. That’s what happens in Acts 19, when Artemis’ prowess is threatened. And it’s what happens in our lives when something we love is threatened, because many of our deepest emotions are connected to idols. Some of my deepest emotions are connected to worshipping the idol of success.

What is that in your life? About what do you think, “If I ever lost this, I’d never survive”? What possible loss makes you not only frightened, but despairing?

The irony here is that idolizing something ultimately keeps you from being able to enjoy it at all. You panic and fret about losing something so vital that you can never rest. For instance, many of the wealthiest people are the most paranoid about their money. Gaining more of an idol only heightens that sense of fear, because nothing other than God can sustain the weight of your soul.

3. Idols need to be protected.

One of the craftsmen in Ephesus, Demetrius, was making a fortune on Artemis statues, coffee mugs, and bobble-head dolls. He wasn’t about to stand idly by while Paul undermined his entire financial enterprise with his “Gods made with hands are not really gods” message. So he gathered up an impromptu group of thugs to force Paul out of town.

Don’t miss the humor in this: Artemis was the protector of Ephesus. Yet when Demetrius’ skin was in the game—his cash flow—he immediately jumped up to defend her. That’s the absurdity of idolatry: what is supposed to protect us becomes something we fiercely protect.

What is that in your life? What do you feel obsessive about protecting in your life?

Charles Spurgeon said the Word of God is like a caged lion. If someone threatens the lion, you don’t have to step in and defend the lion; you just let it loose and it will protect itself. The God of the Word can protect himself, but our false gods always need to be protected.

4. Idols demand sacrifices to keep them happy.

The whole system in Ephesus was built on appeasing Artemis and keeping her happy. That was no accident: idols will always make you sacrifice for them. If business is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your integrity to climb the ladder of success. If acceptance is your idol, you’ll sacrifice your honesty and lie to get affirmation. If romance is your idol, you’ll walk out on your spouse as soon as the “spark” seems to fade.

But an idol is like a fire. It never says, “That’s enough.” Instead, it just keeps asking for more. The altar of idolatry is terrifyingly insatiable: the more you sacrifice for an idol, the more it will demand.

What is that in your life? What part of yourself have you sacrificed on the altar of an idol? Where do you feel that “pull” to keep cutting corners or making excuses? Don’t fool yourself into thinking that thissacrifice will be the last one.

5. The gospel overcomes our idolatry.[2]

The idol of money says to us, “If you don’t do enough to obtain me, I’ll make you miserable.” The idol of family says, “If you lose me, life won’t be worth living.” The idol of comfort says, again and again, “Sacrifice your honesty, your integrity, your closest relationships, for me.”

Idols are harsh taskmasters. If you fail them, they make you pay. But in the gospel Jesus says to us, “You did fail me. But instead of destroying you, I’ll let myself be destroyed for you. Instead of demanding a sacrifice, I willbecome a sacrifice for you.” In Jesus, unlike idols, we find the only God that—when we obtain him—will satisfy us, and—when we fail him—will forgive us.

[1] Cf. Jewish scholar Moshe Halbertal, Idolatry, in which Halbertal claims that the story of the Old Testament is primarily that of the conflict between the true God and all false challengers.
[2] I am indebted to Tim Keller throughout this post, but particularly in this last point. For more on idolatry, see Keller’s Counterfeit Gods.

get out, shut up

At risk of becoming a Sam Storms mirror blog, here's a great reminder from Storms on dealing with the demonic.

A lot of things can happen when the gospel is proclaimed. Some of them, though, are not always welcome. Take for example the disturbance Jesus caused at the beginning of his earthly ministry. We read in Mark 1:21-28 that Jesus preached in the synagogue at Capernaum. Present on that day was a demonized man who suddenly cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24).

We don’t know where this demonized man came from. He may have been anonymous and unknown, sitting in the synagogue all along and the preaching of Jesus awakened him from his slumber. But I’m inclined to think that the people at the synagogue were aware of his presence. He was probably quite well known. He was probably something of a nuisance to the Jewish religious community. They had probably tried to help him many times but had never succeeded in driving from him this demonic presence. No one had made a difference in this man’s life, until Jesus showed up and began preaching, as he did in Mark 1:14-15, “The kingdom of God is here. Repent and believe the gospel!”

A lot of people really struggle with a story like this. I’m not talking about non-Christians. Many professing Christians look at this sort of narrative and are embarrassed. “Do I have to believe this in order to follow Jesus? What will my friends and co-workers think if they hear that I believe demons actually exist and actually enter into people and influence how they think and live?”

C. S. Lewis is helpful as he portrays the senior demon Screwtape speaking to his understudy, Wormwood: "I do not think you will have much difficulty in keeping the patient in the dark. The fact that 'devils' are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you. If any faint suspicion of your existence begins to arise in his mind, suggest to him a picture of something in red tights, and persuade him that since he cannot believe in that . . . he therefore cannot believe in you."

Let me make a few observations about this incident.

First, Mark says this man had an “unclean spirit” (v. 23). Why “unclean”? Not because he forgot to bathe or use deodorant! He was unclean because he was defiled and defiling. This spirit was morally and spiritually unclean because in rebellion against God and because of his goal of crippling and controlling people.

Second, although only one unclean spirit is mentioned in v. 23, he is quoted as saying: “What have you to do with US?” Why the plural? Probably because the demon knows that Jesus has come not simply to defeat one spirit but to confront and conquer the entire demonic power structure. This demon is only one of many, all of whom knew that Jesus was there to take them down.

Third, he knows who Jesus is. If others have not yet figured it out, be assured of this: Satan and his demons know precisely who Jesus is. The demon not only knows his name, “Jesus of Nazareth,” but more importantly he knows his identity: “the Holy One of God.”

Demons are theologically astute! They know the identity of Jesus, acknowledge his deity, and are aware of the certainty of their judgment. Yet, there is no sign of repentance. Knowledge alone, quite clearly, does not save! It was the belief in the ancient world that to gain mastery over someone, especially a spirit, you needed to know and speak their name. Perhaps the demon is trying to reverse things and by speaking Jesus’ name hopes to gain the upper hand. It doesn’t work!

Fourth, Jesus “rebuked” the spirit and said, in effect: “Shut up! Get out!” According to Mark 1:34, “he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.” Why would he not permit them to speak? Peter Davids (More Hard Sayings of the NT, 27) cites three possible reasons:

a. "First, 'the teachers of the law' associated him with Beelzebub, 'the prince of demons' (3:22). Any tendency to show that he accepted the demonic would have given extra evidence to these opponents."

b. "Second, to accept the testimony of demons about himself would give a precedent to his followers to accept (or even seek) testimony of demons about other things. This would threaten to make Jesus' movement an occult movement."

c. "Third, and most important, Jesus' whole mission was a call to faith based on evidence, not on authoritative testimony. . . . Therefore the demons were short-circuiting Jesus' whole methodology. His command to them was a sharp 'Shut up!' His invitation to the crowd at their expulsion was, 'See and believe that the Kingdom of God has come." As James Edwards puts it in his commentary: “Jesus will have no allegiance exacted by amazement and astonishment” (62). He wants a faith that is borne of affection and love and recognition of his true identity.

Fifth, in an obvious but pathetic attempt to show his power and make a scene, the demon throws the man into convulsions and shrieks aloud (v. 26).

Sixth, and surely the most important thing of all, is that Jesus simply speaks the word and the demon is compelled to go! No rituals. No incantations. No candles. No mood music playing in the background. No charms. No religious formulas. No chanting. No dancing. No cutting off of a chicken’s head. He didn’t have to shout or jump up and down. He didn’t physically restrain the demonized man or press a cross against his forehead. He didn’t use “holy” water or incense.

He simply said: “Shut up! Get out!”

And what about us? If we are ever confronted with a similar situation, what might we expect can be done? Jesus himself provides the answer in Luke 10:17-20. There we read:

“The seventy-two [non-apostles, I might add] returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name! And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Monday, August 11, 2014

attending a "gay wedding"

Sam Storms on Robert Gagnon on whether or not it is ok to attend a gay wedding:

Robert Gagnon, author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice, recently addressed this question (The Hope Update, an official publication of Restored Hope Network, July 2014, Vol. 2, No. 3). He finds what he believes is biblical precedent for his conclusion in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Paul’s counsel regarding whether it is permissible for Christians to visit pagan temples where idols are worshipped. The apostle’s response is, No. “First, such actions could ‘stumble’ (i.e., precipitate the spiritual downfall of) others with a weak conscience by sending the message that idol worship wasn’t such a big deal (ch. 8). Second, those attending such rituals, at which sacrifices would be made to an idol, were actually offending God by aligning themselves unknowingly with demonic powers (10:14-22).”

Gagnon also points out that whereas “Jesus reached out to sexual sinners” he did not at any time “attend a ritual that celebrated immorality.” He doesn’t believe Jesus would ever have attended such an event “unless the purpose in attending was to call people to repentance.” Gagnon then asks: “What good would I be at a ‘gay wedding’ anyway since I would be visibly weeping my heart out at a ceremony that solemnizes a behavior that puts a loved one at risk of not inheriting God’s kingdom?”

I completely agree with Gagnon’s position on this question. And let me add one more consideration to the mix. Simply put, there is no such thing as a “gay wedding”. I’m not saying that gay people aren’t in fact hosting a ceremony in which they formally commit themselves one to another. I’m simply saying that what they are not doing is getting married. The reason is that marriage, on its biblical definition, is the lifelong covenantal commitment of a man and a woman. No commitment, no covenant, no vow or pledge or promise that involves two people of the same gender qualifies as a “marriage”. Call it a civil ceremony or whatever you will. But it’s not a marriage.

And that is why I would never attend such an event.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

christian same-sex attraction

The phrase "Gay Christian" may mean:

  1. A Christian (regularly and unrepentantly) engaged in homosexual sex
  2. A Christian who views their recurring temptation toward the same sex as their identity and/or as acceptable as long as they don't follow through with behavior
  3. A Christian who recognizes a recurring temptation toward the same-sex as sinful temptation and not defining of who they are in Christ

I see the first as sinful, the second as problematic, and the third as the proper Biblical view.

Sam Storms reports on portions of Wesley Hill's Washed and Waiting: Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. Here is Storms' post:

It has been suggested that Wesley speaks of his “identity” as a homosexual. Many are uncomfortable with his use of the words “Gay Christian.” Even before reading the book I was quite sure that Wesley does not mean by that, a person who claims to know Christ yet regularly and unrepentantly practices homosexual sex. What he meant was that he is a Christian man who struggles regularly with homosexual desires, but that he believes such desires to be sinful and any acting out on them likewise to be sinful. I am now more convinced than ever that this is what Wesley meant.

On p. 20 he identifies himself as “a Christian who experiences intense homoerotic desires.” Again, on p. 21, he is very careful to define his terms:
“I also refer to myself as a ‘gay Christian’ or ‘a Christian who experiences homosexual desires.’ These phrases are all synonymous for me, and though they are open to misunderstanding, in my judgment the gains in using them outweigh the potential hazards. None of them should be taken necessarily to imply homosexual practice; in each case I am most often placing the emphasis on the subject’s sexual orientation and not the corresponding behavior.”
So, it appears to me that Wesley is keenly aware that some may misinterpret his use of terms. That is why he is so careful to define them. When he speaks of a “gay Christian” he means a person who struggles with, but does not indulge in practice, same sex desires. He then follows this with an extremely important clarification:
“There is, however, one way of speaking that I’ve tried to avoid. Rather than refer to someone as ‘a homosexual,’ I’ve taken care always to make ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ the adjective, and never the noun, in a longer phrase, such as ‘gay Christian’ or ‘homosexual person.’ In this way, I hope to send a subtle linguistic signal that being gay isn’t the most important thing about my or any other gay person’s identity. I am a ‘Christian’ before I am anything else. My homosexuality is a part of my makeup, a facet of my personality [emphasis mine]. One day, I believe, whether in this life or in the resurrection, it will fade away. But my identity as a Christian – someone incorporated into Christ’s body by his Spirit – will remain” (22).
In another place he writes: “Washed and waiting. That is my life – my identity as one who is forgiven and spiritually cleansed and my struggle as one who perseveres with a frustrating thorn in the flesh, looking forward to what God has promised to do” (50; italics are his). He is clearly saying that his identity is not his same-sex struggle but rather his union with Christ.

He also clearly describes same-sex “desires” or “impulses” as sin and not just the choice to indulge them: “I am not the only one who has chosen voluntarily to say no to impulses I believe are out of step with God’s desires” (75). Note well: the “impulses” themselves are inconsistent with God’s will for us. That Wesley believes same-sex desires are sinful is clear from this statement:
“Those of us who live day in and day out with the disordered desires of a broken sexuality can opt to live as single people, fleeing from lust and fighting for purity of mind and body in the power of God’s Spirit” (103).
Again, note his use of the words “disordered desires of a broken sexuality” (he uses the word “disordered” again on p. 146 where he again describes same-sex attraction as “impure cravings”). He also articulates a prayer in which he says to God: “I would love to say thanks for my sexuality, but I don’t feel like I can. Every attraction I experience, before I ever get to intentional, willful, indulgent desire, seems bent, broken, misshapen. I think this grieves you, but I can’t seem to help it” (137). And of course he also repeatedly says that this inability to “help it” is itself sinful, a facet of his fallen and corrupt nature.

He refers to his “exclusive attraction to other men” as something that brings him “grief” and for which there is required “repentance” (145).

There is an increasing number of individuals writing on the subject of same sex attraction who believe that it is biblically legitimate for a Christian to live in an unrepentant, sexually-active, so-called “monogamous” relationship with another individual of the same gender. This is something Wesley abhors and declares repeatedly to be sinful.

If you are looking for a book to give someone who knows Christ but struggles with same-sex attraction, this one is for you.

the universal hot crazy matrix

Funny at many, many levels ...


Martin Luther in Commentary on Romans:

The very fact that Christ suffered for us, and through His suffering became a propitiation for us, proves that we are (by nature) unrighteous, and that we for whom He became a propitiation, must obtain our righteousness solely from God, now that forgiveness for our sins has been secured by Christ’s atonement. By the fact that God forgives our sins (only) through Christ’s propitiation and so justifieth us by faith, He shows how necessary is His righteousness (for all). There is no one whose sins are not forgiven (in Christ). 

fighting battles

Francis Schaeffer in The Mark of the Christian:

We should never come to [differences] with true Christians without regret and without tears. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Believe me, evangelicals often have not shown it. We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes. We build ourselves up by tearing other men down. This can never show a real oneness among Christians.

There is only one kind of man who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near a proper way, and that is the man who by nature is unbelligerent. A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent; at least it looks that way. The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake. If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.

Friday, August 01, 2014


Tim Chester You Can Change:

Jesus shows us God’s agenda for change. God isn’t interested in making us religious. Think of Jesus, who was hated by religious people. God isn’t interested in making us spiritual if by spiritual we mean detached. Jesus was God getting involved with us. God isn’t interested in making us self-absorbed: Jesus was self-giving personified. God isn’t interested in serenity: Jesus was passionate for God, angry at sin, weeping for the city. The word holy means ‘set apart’ or ‘consecrated.’ For Jesus, holiness meant being set apart from, or different from, our sinful ways. It didn’t mean being set apart from the world, but being consecrated to God in the world. He was God’s glory in and for the world. 

our holiness

Herman Bavinck in Reformed Dogmatics:

Christ is our holiness in the same sense in which he is our righteousness. He is a complete and all-sufficient Savior. He does not accomplish his work halfway but saves us really and completely. He does not rest until, after pronouncing his acquittal in our conscience, he has also imparted full holiness and glory to us.

By his righteousness, accordingly, he does not just restore us to the state of the just who will go scot-free in the judgment of God, in order then to leave us to ourselves to reform ourselves after God’s image and to merit eternal life. But Christ has accomplished everything. He bore for us the guilt and punishment of sin, placed himself under the law to secure eternal life for us, and then arose from the grave to communicate himself to us in all his fullness for both our righteousness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30). The holiness that must completely become ours therefore fully awaits us in Christ. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

irenaeus the continuationist

Was Irenaeus a charismatic?
  • Against Heresies 2.31 - Christians still heal the blind, deaf, and chase away all sorts of demons. Occasionally the dead are raised. Gnostics and other non-Christians can't chase away demons - except those demons that are sent into others by themselves, if they can even do so much as this.
  • Against Heresies 2.32 - Some Christians do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe in Christ, and join themselves to the church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. The church does not perform anything by means of angelic invocations, or incantations, or by any other wicked curious art; but directing her prayers to the Lord.
  • Against Heresies 4.9 - In 1 Corinthians 13, "that which is perfect" and "face to face" refer to the second coming. 
  • Against Heresies 5.6 - Those who are "perfect" are those who have received the Spirit of God, and who through the Spirit of God do speak in all languages, as He Himself, used  also to speak. In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God, whom also the apostle terms "spiritual," they being spiritual because they partake of the Spirit, and seek spiritual understanding to become purely spiritual. 
From James R. Payton Jr.'s Irenaeus on the Christian Faith:

... The heretics cannot raise the dead, as the Lord raised them, and as the apostles did by prayer, and as has been frequently done in the brotherhood because of some necessity. At times, the entire church in a particular locality has entreated for this extraordinary gift by mush basting and prayer of the saints. But the heretics do not even believe this can be done ... (2:31,2)

If, however, they maintain that the Lord, too, only appeared to perform miraculous works, we will direct them to the prophets' writings, and prove from then that such miraculous things were predicted about him, that they unquestionably took place, and that he is the only Son of God. So also, those who genuinely are his disciples receive grace from him to perform miracles in his name for the welfare of others - all according to the gift which each has received from him [cf. Rom 12.6-8; 1 Co 12.7, 10]. Some exorcise demons, and many who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits come to believe in Christ and join the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions and utter prophecies. Still others heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are mdd well. Moreover, as I have said, even the dead have been raised, and have remained among us for many years.

What else should I say? It is not possible to number all the gifts which the Church, throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ (who was crucified under Pontius Pilate), and which she exercises day by day for the benefit of the nations, without practicing deception toward anyone, and not taking any reward from them for these miracles. As she has received freely from God, she also freely ministers to others [Mt 10.8]. (2:32,4)

The Church does nothing by angelic invocations or incantations or any evil art. Her practice is to direct her prayers in a pure, sincere, and honest spirit to the Lord who made all things, calling on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the way the Church works miracles for humanity's advantage. She does not mislead them, for even now the name of our Lord Jesus Christ grants benefits to human beings and thoroughly and effectively cures, anywhere, all who believe in him. ... From this, it can readily be seen that, when he was made man, he had fellowship with his creation and did everything through the power of God, according to the will of the Father of all - as the prophets had foretold. (2:32,5)

db on altmc

Don Bromley nails it!!! If you are not reading Think Theologically you are wrong. And if you are, keep an eye out for Bromley, he seems to be a good thinker. Here is his lengthy post:

My favorite scene from Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy:

Ron: “Mmm. San Diego. Drink it in. It always goes down smooth. Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diago, which of course in German means a whale’s vagina.” Veronica: “No, there’s no way that’s correct.” Ron: “I’m sorry, I was trying to impress you. I don’t know what it means. I’ll be honest, I don’t think anyone knows what it means anymore. Scholars maintain that the translation was lost hundreds of years ago.” Veronica: “Doesn’t it mean Saint Diego?” Ron: “No. No.” Veronica: “No, that’s what it means. Really.” Ron: “Agree to disagree.”

This classic scene from Anchorman illustrates an absurd application of the phrase, “Agree to disagree.” Does “San Diego” mean “Saint Diego,” or was the translation lost hundreds of years ago? Of course Veronica Corningstone is right and Ron Burgundy is wrong, regardless of whether they “agree to disagree,” or whether they declare it a “disputable matter.” San Diego means Saint Diego. But they may still “agree to disagree” as a way to, in essence, call a truce and spare the relationship. After all, Ron’s ignorance isn’t doing anyone any harm. What does that have to do with Ken Wilson’s A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor’s path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus?

“Disputable Matters” in Romans 14

In Chapter 4 and 5 of ALTMC Wilson discusses Romans chapter 14 as a template for handling controversial issues in the church. In Romans 14 Paul alludes to a conflict between the “strong” and the “weak.” The “weak in faith” refrained from eating meat, which they were persuaded was “unclean,” or drinking wine—they ate only vegetables. And they treated certain days as more sacred and special than others. The “strong” had a faith which allowed them to eat meat, drink wine, and to regard each day as any other. Paul exhorts each group to refrain from judging the other, or treating the other with contempt. “The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them… One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14:3, 5, NIV). Wilson’s basic argument can be summarized as follows: 1) The “weak” had strong moral convictions about eating meat and observing certain special days (e.g. the Sabbath). These were most likely the Jewish Christians. They would correspond to the “conservatives” today, who have strong moral convictions about homosexuality. The “strong” of Paul’s day did not share these convictions and felt free to eat meat and treat each day the same. Most likely these were the Gentile Christians. They would correspond to the “liberals” today, who do not share the conservatives’ beliefs about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. 2) The morality of eating meat or observing holy days was a first-order moral issue of Paul’s day, rooted in Old Testament commands, and threatened to split apart the church. It would correspond to the issue of homosexuality in the church today. 3) Paul commands the “weak” and the “strong” to respect each other’s convictions regarding meat eating and holy days. They should not judge or hold each other in contempt. The person who is convinced that eating meat is wrong should obey their own conscience. The person who in not convinced that it is wrong is free to eat. Likewise, in the church today those who believe that homosexual activity is a sin are free to believe so. Those who do not believe that it is a sin are free to believe so and act accordingly. Each person should do what they are convinced is the right thing, and not judge the other. They should “agree to disagree.” 4) Issues which are not “Dogma” (an essential truth of Christianity) or “Doctrine” (central teaching of a Christian tradition) are “Opinion” and should be treated as “disputable matters.” This is particularly true when faithful Christians, both citing biblical truths, disagree on an issue. The heart of Wilson’s argument is that in Romans 14 Paul is dealing with a first-order moral issue for which there were compelling scriptural arguments to be made on both sides. It was “disputable” because it was not a clear-cut case of right or wrong, biblical or unbiblical, moral or immoral. Rather, both sides were making reasonable appeals to Scripture and were convinced in their own consciences. Regarding the issue of eating meat and drinking wine, Wilson writes:
The vegetarianism of the weak may have been to avoid meat improperly drained of blood. While this practice is widely considered acceptable to many Christians today, there is strong biblical reason to avoid it, even for those not obligated to keep kosher. After all, this practice was first introduced in the book of Genesis in the time of Noah, to reinforce the sanctity of life— the image of God in humanity. (ALTMC, Kindle Locations 1597-1600).
And regarding the observance of “special days,” Wilson takes the view that this refers to Sabbath observance (this is not established by the text itself, which does not mention “Sabbath” (sabbaton), but it’s a possibility). He writes:
Take Sabbath-keeping, a matter that has receded to the status of a secondary moral or even a “merely ceremonial” concern in the contemporary church. Indeed, there is a strong case to be made that observance of the Sabbath is binding on Christians. It is, after all, a command enshrined in the Ten Commandments. Even more, it is embedded in creation—God having rested from his work on the seventh day. In this sense, Sabbath-breaking could be regarded as a sin against nature, because it violates God’s created order. (ALTMC, Kindle Location 1620-1623).
According to Wilson, the contention between the strong and the weak was truly over first-order moral issues. However, while it is certainly arguable that “the weak” believed these were moral issues, it is abundantly clear that Paul counted himself among “the strong,” who did NOT consider these moral issues at all. Paul writes, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself” (verse 14). Here Paul is echoing the teaching of Jesus, who said, “Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them… For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:15, 18-22, NIV) [Side note: Isn’t it interesting that Jesus calls out “sexual immorality” (Greek porneia) as something that truly does defile a person? Jesus and his audience would have included homosexual activity, along with adultery, incest, and bestiality, as porneia. Refer to any good theological dictionary of the New Testament. Also refer to Thomas Lyon’s excellent discussion of porneia in his post, On the Road Between Ephesus and Thyatira: An Alternative Model to Ken Wilson’s in ALTMC, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3] Paul’s words also reflects Peter’s vision In Acts 10, where the Lord says, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (verse 15). Paul continues to clarify this in Romans 14, where in verse 20 he again reiterates, “All food is clean…” The point could not be any clearer. The Jewish food laws no longer had any bearing on Christians. Eating or drinking certain things did not make one “unclean.” Eating meat, or refraining from eating meat, was not a truly a moral issue, regardless of what “the weak” believed. The same is true of the “special days” which were no longer required. Hence Paul writes to the Galatians, “You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you” (Gal 4:10-11, NIV). In other words, you are no longer under that Law, including the observance of special days, you are free in Christ! Observing “special days” was not truly a moral issue, regardless of what “the weak” believed. Paul clearly expresses that the issues of dispute in Romans 14 were not truly moral issue at all, but rather issues of ritual uncleanness and tradition, which had no moral bearing on Christians whatsoever. Furthermore, Paul’s rationale for treating this issue as a “disputable matter” was NOT that there were compelling biblical arguments on both sides of this issue, so “agree to disagree.” The “weak” were “weak in faith” precisely because they had not appropriated the truth: that food laws and observance of special days were no longer binding upon the people of God. As James D. G. Dunn writes in his Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 38B, Romans 9-16:
In this case the weakness is trust in God plus dietary and festival laws, trust in God dependent on observance of such practices, a trust in God which leans on the crutches of particular customs and not on God alone, as though they were an integral part of that trust. …Paul is quite clear that the position they hold to is one characterized by a deficiency in faith. By implication they are putting too much weight on the outward form of the covenant people (2:17–29); too much weight on their physical (fleshly) membership of Israel (13:14); they are not living out of complete dependence on God like father Abraham (4:19–21). Paul is in no doubt: the attitude thus expressed is deficient, “weak.”
So why didn’t Paul simply correct “the weak” and instruct them to stop refraining from eating meat? Why didn’t Paul simply tell “the weak” to stop observing special days? He writes, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” (Romans 14:14, NIV) In other words, despite the fact that all foods are clean and acceptable, if someone is convinced that certain foods are “unclean” they should abstain, for the sake of their own conscience. The food is “unclean” for that person. If at some point their faith becomes strong, and they come to understand (as Paul does) that no food is unclean, they could then eat without sin. Do you see the distinction? Let me make a silly analogy. Remember the children’s rhyme, “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”? Well, we know that stepping on a crack does not break your mother’s back. But if someone were convinced that it really would, they shouldn’t do it! It is not a matter of whether stepping on a crack is actually a moral issue—it is clearly not! Stepping on cracks in itself is amoral, not a matter of right or wrong. What is a moral issue is doing something that you are convinced in your conscience is wrong. Something that is not objectively a moral wrong can become a moral wrong if it is a matter of conscience. But this argument does not work both ways! If something truly IS a moral issue, a sin, then one’s conscience on the matter does not change the fact one way or the other. Abusing a child is a moral wrong whether or not one believes it to be. The fact that a person can justify it to themselves, or that their conscience is not bothered, does not thereby make it morally neutral. Female infanticide (as was and is practiced in many cultures) is a moral wrong regardless of what one may believe about it. As Saint Augustine said, “Right is right even if no one is doing it; wrong is wrong even if everyone is doing it.” When it comes to sin, there are moral absolutes which do not depend upon individual belief or conscience. These are never “disputable matters.” We cannot “agree to disagree.” The disputable matters of Romans 14, eating meat and observing certain special days, were not first-order moral issues. They were morally neutral cultural boundary markers which threatened to split the church along ethnic lines. This point is beautifully made in N. T. Wright’s brilliant paper, Communion and Koinonia: Pauline Reflections on Tolerance and Boundaries.
In all these things he wants Christians to stop thinking of themselves as basically belonging to this or that ethnic group, and to see the practices that formerly demarcated that ethnic group from all others as irrelevant, things you can carry on doing if you like but which you shouldn’t insist on for others.
Carry on doing it if you like—as long as it’s not harming anyone, and you don’t insist on everyone else doing so. But actual issues of sin and morality are not disputable matters! N.T. Wright goes on:
At this point there can be no dispute, no room for divergent opinions: no room, in other words, for someone to say ‘some Christians practice fornication, others think it’s wrong, so we should be tolerant of one another,’ or to say ‘some Christians lose their tempers, others think it’s wrong, so we should tolerate one another’. There is no place for immorality, and no place for anger, slander and the like. And then, immediately, as though to emphasize the point I’m making, Paul concludes the passage by saying (v.11) that ‘in that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free, but in Christ is all in all.’ Paul is absolutely clear about the standards expected of the new humanity, and equally clear that distinctions relating to ethnic, social and cultural origin become irrelevant.
Paul’s advice on actual moral issues is NEVER, “Just do what your conscience tells you,” or, “Agree to disagree.” Paul believed, as we should, that certain things were harmful and sinful and should never be done, regardless of what one may believe about them. There are moral absolutes. People, even Christians, are sometimes genuinely wrong about what is acceptable moral behavior. They may even cite a Bible verse or biblical concepts such as “freedom” and “love” to support their actions. But the existence of disagreement does not qualify something as a “disputable matter” if it is a matter of morality.

Dogma, Doctrine, Opinion

Ken Wilson cites Roger E. Olson’s book The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity, as being helpful in thinking through the criteria of what can be considered a “disputable matter.” He summarizes Olson’s categories as:
Dogma: Olsen [sic] defines dogma as truths essential to Christianity itself; to deny them is to follow something other than Jesus. Christian identity is at stake… Doctrine: Olsen defines doctrine as a secondary category of teachings central to a particular tradition of Christians. These can be very significant matters that define entire traditions: predestination or free will; how we understand the saving work of Jesus; the nature of church and sacraments… Opinion: Olsen defines opinion here as matters of speculative nature about which there is no consensus in the church (used in its broad sense.) Examples might include the age of earth, mode of baptism and criteria for ordination… (ALTMC, Kindle Locations 1726-1727, 1735-1737, 1739-1740).
These categories allow Wilson to determine the following “reasonable criteria” for what is to be treated as a “disputable matter” in the church:
1. When it doesn’t involve a matter of basic Christian dogma such as we find in the great ecumenical creeds (Apostles, Nicene, Chalcedonian, etc.). 2. When the debate brings two or more biblical truths into dynamic tension (e.g. mercy-judgment, law-grace, free will-predestination) so that both parties make reasonable appeals to Scripture. 3. When faithful Christians take different views on the issue. (ALTMC, Kindle Location 1743-1744, 1746-1748, 1756)
Therefore, because the matter of modern-day same-sex activity between committed persons fulfills all three criteria, it should therefore be treated as “Opinion” and as a “disputable matter.” However, when Roger Olson defines “Opinion,” he is clear that it only includes issues on which there is not consensus because they “are not clearly taught in Scripture” (Kindle Location 689, emphasis mine). They are “Mere guesswork without strong justification,” or “Speculative interpretations of obscure passages of Scripture” (Mosaic, Kindle Locations 689-690, 730). Olson gives examples of Opinion such as, “Beliefs about intelligent life on other planets, the age of the earth and the exact details of the events of the end times such as the identity of the antichrist” (Mosaic, Kindle Location 708). In other words, these are topics which are not clearly taught in Scripture, they are speculative. To include the issue of same-sex activity, on which there has been two millennia of church consensus, as “Opinion” is to misunderstand Olson’s categories. While few would argue that same-sex activity is a matter of Dogma, it would best fit Olson’s description of a “secondary belief” or “Doctrine.” Olson writes, “’What saith Scripture?’ is the touchstone of the doctrine category. Beliefs that seem to be clearly revealed in the biblical witness but not essential to belief in Christ are placed there” (Mosaic, Kindle Locations 728-729).

Are Issues of Sexual Morality “Disputable Matters”?

In a different letter Paul writes to a church where their consciences were not bothered by the fact that a man was sleeping with his father’s wife. In fact, they were proud of it! Look how “free in Christ” we are! No legalistic adherence to irrelevant Old Testament rules here! How did Paul handle this situation? Did he commend them for acting according to their conscience? Did he insist that those in the church who felt that incest was wrong refrain from judging those who did not?
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. …Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Cor. 5:1-3, 13, NIV)
Wait a minute, aren’t we supposed to act according to our conscience and not judge those whose conscience differs from ours on moral issues? And certainly sleeping with your father’s wife is not a matter of Christian Dogma or Doctrine, according to Wilson’s definition. It’s not in any of the Creeds. There’s certainly a tension between the biblical concepts of law and grace, judgment and mercy. And didn’t the Corinthian Christians have a good argument to make about “freedom in Christ”? Weren’t they Spirit-filled believers? So shouldn’t this have been treated as a “disputable matter” and “agree to disagree”? No! Paul tells them to throw the guy out! In fact, Paul goes on to instruct the church in Corinth:
…You must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (1 Cor. 5:11, NIV)
You can see where the logic of “agree to disagree” leads. There are innumerable issues upon which “Good Christians” may disagree that should nevertheless not be considered “disputable matters.” Is it okay to marry more than one woman at a time? Aren’t there “Good Christians” who believe so, and with some scriptural arguments? Should we therefore treat this as a “disputable matter” in our churches today? If you’re 25 years old and single is it okay to have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend, as long as you’re monogamous and plan to someday marry them? There are certainly “Good Christians” who believe so, and could make a scriptural case. Should we treat this as a “disputable matter” in our churches and youth groups? Is it okay to have an abortion as a means of birth control, when a pregnancy would be problematic? There are certainly “Good Christians” who believe so. No, because these are issues of morality, where matters of sinning are involved. They are not issues where there’s “no harm” if one does them or doesn’t do them, they are matters of sin. There are indeed things which Christians may disagree upon, and behave differently, without harm. In the Roman church the eating of meat, drinking of wine, and the observance of certain special days was among them. There was no harm or sin if one did them or did not do them, as Paul made clear. “Food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do” (1 Cor 8:8, NIV). It was not a moral issue. The Reformers referred to matters such as this as adiaphora, or “matters of indifference.” These were actions that morality neither mandates nor forbids. They are Olson’s “Opinion.” Today there are many examples of adipahora in the Christian church. Am I allowed to dance? Am I allowed to drink or smoke? Can I read Harry Potter novels? Am I allowed to date in high school? There are many opinions among Christians on these issues. I believe that Scripture neither clearly mandates nor clearly forbids these things, and one is not sinning in doing or refraining. So if someone in the church felt strongly that they should not date in high school, I would encourage them not to do so! There is certainly no harm in them refraining. If Scripture did clearly mandate or forbid it, and if it were an issue of sinning, it would not be adiaphora! It would not be a “disputable matter”! Matters which are not truly “moral,” which do not involve sin, and which are not clearly prohibited in scripture, may be regarded as “disputable” in the church. But some things are harmful regardless of what we may believe about them, or regardless of what our society’s prevailing view is. Can modern-day homosexual activity be considered a “disputable matter”? As Richard Hays writes in his brilliant The Moral Vision of the New Testament: Community, Cross, New Creation: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethic:
Though only a few biblical texts speak of homoerotic activity, all that do mention it express unqualified disapproval. Thus, on this issue, there is no synthetic problem for New Testament ethics. In this respect, the issue of homosexuality differs significantly from matters such as slavery or the subordination of women, concerning which the Bible contains internal tensions and counterposed witnesses. The biblical witness against homosexual practices is univocal. (Moral Vision, Kindle Location 10849-10852, emphasis mine) Romans 1 presents, as we have seen, a portrayal of humankind in rebellion against God and consequently plunged into depravity and confusion. In the course of that portrayal, homosexual activities are— explicitly and without qualification— identified as symptomatic of that tragically confused rebellion. To take the New Testament as authoritative in the mode in which it speaks is to accept this portrayal as “revealed reality,” an authoritative disclosure of the truth about the human condition. Understood in this way, the text requires a normative evaluation of homosexual practice as a distortion of God’s order for creation. (Moral Vision, Kindle Locations 11010-11014, emphasis mine) If Romans 1— the key text— is to inform normative judgments about homosexuality, it must function as a diagnostic tool, laying bare the truth about humankind’s dishonorable “exchange” of the natural for the unnatural. According to Paul, homosexual relations, however they may be interpreted (or rationalized: see Rom. 1: 32) by fallen and confused creatures, represent a tragic distortion of the created order. If we accept the authority of the New Testament on this subject, we will be taught to perceive homosexuality accordingly. (Moral Vision, Kindle Locations 11024-11027, emphasis mine)
Sins such as sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly (which Jesus mentions in Mark 7 as the sins that truly defile) are not “disputable matters.” On this there can be no debate, at least not if we accept the Bible as authoritative and are following the way of Jesus.