Sunday, August 24, 2014

lg on altmc

Luke Geraty continues his series (this is part 5) dealing with Ken Wilson's, A Letter to my Congregation. The following is Geraty's writing. If you are as impressed as I, you will follow his blog here.

In this post, I want to review and interact with Ken Wilson’s work in ALTMC on the Apostle Paul. In addition to several posts covering Ken’s introductory work (here, here, and here), I’ve posted my thoughts on his use of the Old Testament. Now I want to start looking at his work on the NT, specifically related to the Pauline corpus. Don Bromley has already done a splendid job of why Ken’s use of Romans 14 is problematic, so I’ll simply be referring to the prohibitive texts and Ken’s use of certain sources.

Romans 1

The first NT text that Ken engages in ALTMC is Romans 1:24-27. Ken is helpful in pointing out that modern culture, especially in the Western world, does not generally include an awareness of pederasty. When we think about homosexuality in today’s culture, we do not normally think of a sexual relationship between an adult male and a pubescent or adolescent male. We generally call that child abuse. Yet in the ancient world, this type of relationship was common. Ken is also correct to remind us that a significant amount of “homosexuality” in the 1st century included what is known as “temple prostitution.” Additionally, the ancient world’s understanding of homosexuality included the sexual relationship between masters and slaves. As Ken notes, “we have three very significant and pervasive sexual practices that would have been well known to Paul’s audience and would shape their view of same-gender sexual practices: temple prostitution, pederasty, and the sexual services required of slaves.” These approaches have been argued by John Boswell and Robin Scroggs, though thoroughly refuted in numerous works (cf. Loader, Gagnon, Davidson; for a full refutation of Scroggs, see Mark D. Smith, “Ancient Bisexuality and the Interpretation of Romans 1:26-27,” JAAR, 223-256).

These are all very important issues for us to understand if we want to discuss the complexity of sexuality in the ancient world. Ken suggests that committed monogamous homosexual relationships “are very different than the things the Roman Christians were familiar with” and that “any comparison between the modern world and the ancient world is very difficult because “homosexuality,” in the sense we use it today (people who are primarily sexually attracted to members of the same sex), wasn’t a recognized category.” Furthermore, Ken thinks it is arguable to suggest that Romans 1 has application to the modern homosexual relationships. He writes:
“The fact is, when scholars search the literature of the period, they can find untold examples of same-sex acts in the context of pederasty, temple prostitution, and slavery. The case for asserting the existence of something like contemporary monogamous gay unions is sketchy at best. To assert with great confidence that such relationships were well known to Paul doesn’t seem justified.”
Ken’s primary scholarly source appears to be Sarah Ruden’s Paul Among the People, as she is referenced and footnoted in ALTMC. Ruden’s work has some significant flaws though. For example, her work largely ignores St. Paul’s Jewish background which means that his understanding of sex and sexuality is not acknowledged to come from a framework that is shape by the Old Testament (see this review for a devastatingly accurate evaluation of Ruden’s methodology). This appears to be why Ken suggests that it is “sketchy” and “doesn’t seem justified” to conclude that St. Paul had all homosexual activity in mind when he condemned it.

While this line of argumentation is popular, it appears to lack the support of the scholarly community. As I’ve already noted, Loader, Brooten, Davidson, Dover and a host of other scholars have demonstrated that there were homosexual relationships in the ancient world that correspond to what we see in today’s world. Ken appears to be unaware of these sources.

Furthermore, ALTMC suggests that the textual background to Romans 1 is Leviticus 18-20. While a host of NT scholars make this suggestion, it would seem just as likely if not more likely to see the background to Paul’s work in Romans 1 being Genesis 1-3. Loader writes:
“… Paul sees same-sex intercourse as disorder and sets it in parallel to the disorder when people stop worshipping God and worship idols instead. Not only are the two disorders parallel; one is the consequence of the other. God let people continue their denial of God’s reality into denial of reality in their own lives. So they not only deny God’s reality, they deny their own nature as (heterosexual) human beings, and engage with those of their own sex instead or with the opposite sex. So this is not simply a transgression of a biblical prohibition which Paul assumes (Lev 18:22; 20:13); it is deliberate perversion of God’s intention and their nature.” (The New Testament on Sexuality, 227).
One doesn’t need to point out that St. Paul would look at Gen. 1-3 to explain God’s intention. Loader further acknowledges that “the allusion to male and female in 1:26-27 very likely reflects the language of Gen 1:27 and, generally, one can scarcely ignore that for Paul divine creation is a major presupposition of his thought” (p. 301, emphasis mine; it seems important to note that while Loader acknowledges that the Bible condemns homosexuality, he simply believes the biblical authors are wrong). Hays pointedly writes:
“The reference to God as Creator would certainly evoke for Paul, as well as for his readers, immediate recollections of the creation story in Genesis 1– 3, which proclaims that “God created humankind in his own image… male and female he created them,” charging them to “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1: 27– 28).” (The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 386)
Additionally, in ALTMC Ken raises some challenges to the issue of female homosexuality (lesbianism). I won’t go into detail concerning the lack of plausibility for the views that he thinks may be a better way of understanding Rom. 1:26 other than to suggest that Brooten’s Love Between Women largely undermines most of his assumptions about St. Paul and the ancient world’s understanding of lesbianism (Ken only quotes an essay written by Brooten and does not reference her actual book on the subject).

Regarding Ken’s work on Romans 1, I must say that I was disappointed to see that he selectively uses Richard Hays and absolutely ignores what he writes concerning the ethical challenge found in the Pauline text. Advocates of the traditional approach to understanding these texts can be greatly served by Hays’ work because he does a splendid job of reading the texts and then approaching the practical ethical issues in a balanced way. Thus, Hays understands that homosexual activity is indicative of a larger issue and yet still something Paul condemns. It should neither be overlooked as being non-evil or seen as being any worse than other evils. Hays writes that “self-righteous judgment of homosexuality is just as sinful as the homosexual behavior itself” (p. 389)” In my opinion, Richard Hays offers a far more trustworthy resource than Ken Wilson’s ALTMC.

1 Corinthians & 1 Timothy

Engaging ALTMC and Ken’s interaction with Paul’s first epistles to the Corinthians and to Timothy will take a bit of technical work. In addition to suggesting that the ancient world’s understanding of homosexuality differed from ours, which has been demonstrated as being incorrect, Ken spends time analyzing Paul’s use of the Greek words malakoiand arsenokoitai. The two prohibitive texts are:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-10)
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine…” (1 Tim. 1:8-10)
Before we look at the definition and lexical range, I want to address a passing statement that Ken makes. He writes:
“… there is not a single condemnation in scripture that is specifically and explicitly aimed at monogamous gay couples.”
Readers of these reviews will likely know that my response to this statement is simple: hogwash. It is only possible to suggest that the Bible does not condemn homosexual activity within a committed monogamous gay relationship if it can be demonstrated that the NT was unaware of that type of relationship (which it isn’t) or that the NT’s use of porneia didn’t include all homosexual activity (which it did). When the Bible condemns homosexuality, it condemns all homosexual sex. It’s important to note that this is not the same as condemning homosexual orientation or homosexual identity. The bottom line is that all of the evidence, both historically and biblically, is diametrically opposed to the position that Ken Wilson argues for in ALTMC.

Back to the challenges raised by the Greek.

Ken’s contention is that malakoi and arsenokoitai are difficult words to translate, so we shouldn’t be so quick to assume that they are referring to the passive and active participants in homosexual sex. ALTMC appeals to Soards’Scripture and Homosexuality and Fee’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. However, the only way that Ken’s concerns about malakoi and arsenokoitai stand are if we concede that the NT knows nothing about committed monogamous homosexual relationships. Otherwise, most of Ken’s issues are essentially moot.

Furthermore, BDAG defines malakoi as pertaining “to being passive in a same-sex relationship” (p.613) and Louw-Nida as “the passive male partner in homosexual intercourse” while noting that “as in Greek, a number of other languages also have entirely distinct terms for the active and passive roles in homosexual intercourse” (pp.771-772). The Dictionary of BIblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) lists among possible definitions “passive partner in male-to-male sex act” and the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament notes that malakoi‘s use in 1 Cor. 6:9 is the “reprehensible examples of passive homosexuality” (p.381). My point in listing these lexicons (and there are others) is that a number of well-respected (if not authoritative) lexicons view malakoi as pertaining to the passive partner in homosexual activity. Interestingly, in the context of Fee’s statements in regards to malakoi, Fee writes that “for Paul’s attitude toward homosexuality in general one need refer only to his own Jewish background with its abhorrence of such,28 plus his description of such activity (Rom. 1:26–27)” (p. 244). That’s similar to what Loader, Gagnon, and a host of other exegetes suggest too. I’ll grant that malakoi is not a slam dunk for the traditional view, but certainly the majority of Greek scholars seem to disagree with Ken (and Fee) here and tend to indicate that the best guess is to view it as the passive homosexual partner.

When it comes to arsenokoitai, it should be noted that the word is comprised of ἄρσην (male) and κοίτη (bed), which, as Fee notes, “there is no question as to the meaning of the koitai part of the word; it is vulgar slang for “intercourse”” (p.244). This is why the Greek word is seen as pertaining to the active participant in homosexual sex by BDAG, Louw-Nida, DBL Greek, LXGRCANLEX, EDNT, etc. In other words, Ken’s caution at translating arsenokoitai are not shared by the scholarly community, and these are just lexical sources, not exegetes and commentaries. In addition to the scholarly literature, it’s important to note that this Greek phrase likely is based on the LXX and it’s translation of Lev. 20:13 (cf. Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, 382-383). This is to say that St. Paul is likely building his case off of the Jewish background.

Plus, we still have to deal with Paul’s use of pornos, a cognate of porneia, in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10. Even if we granted that 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 are ambiguous when it comes to translating malakoi and arsenokoitai, there’s the challenge of porneia that still remains. Unfortunately, Ken completely ignores this issue. Once again, I would suggest that it is better to go with Hays on this issue, who writes:

“The early church did, in fact, consistently adopt the Old Testament’s teaching on matters of sexual morality, including homosexual acts. In 1 Corinthians 6: 9 and 1 Timothy 1: 10, for example, we find homosexuals included in lists of persons who do things unacceptable to God.” (p. 382)

Lastly, I think it is very important to note that the NET’s translation note for 1 Tim. 1:10 states that “since there is a distinction in contemporary usage between sexual orientation and actual behavior, the qualification “practicing” was supplied in the translation.”

The “Sexual Immorality” Texts Are Noticeably Absent

As has already been noted numerous times in this post, as well as observed by Thomas Lyons, Ken virtually ignores the texts that state that sexual immorality is sin. This is because Ken clearly wants to control the data so that, in the end, he can argue that the Bible is silent on monogamous homosexual relationships and that the NT’s use of porneia has nothing to do with LGBTQ issues. I beg to differ.

As another alternative alongside Thomas Lyons’ posts, I’d want to argue that we need to consider Ephesians 5:3-20 just as much as Revelation 2. In the future a number of us plan to provide a more constructive way forward and I plan to spend more time engaging with this Pauline text.

I’d interact and engage with Ken’s thoughts on St. Paul’s writings concerning the issue but, like I stated, they are virtually absent in all of ALTMC. For Ken, porneia (sexual immorality) simply doesn’t have anything to do with this issue.

I think St. Paul disagrees. And I think Jesus does too.

spiritual fathers

Os Guinness quotes a Japanese businessman who said, "Whenever I meet a Buddhist leader, I meet a holy man. Whenever I meet a Christian leader, I meet a manager."

Today's message was from 1 Co 4.14-21 ...

What fathers do for those they father ...

  • Lead to Christ (as opposed to simply point)
  • Take responsibility for growth (as opposed to simply guide)
  • Live worthy of imitation, i.e., exemplary in holiness & repentance (1 Tim 3.1ff)
  • Provide discipline (v. 21); an authoritative love to enforce (reinforce) the standard, order, stability, ...


Martyn Lloyd-Jones in Spiritual Depression:

Do you want to know supreme joy, do you want to experience a happiness that eludes description? There is only one thing to do, really seek Him, seek Him Himself, turn to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

If you find that your feelings are depressed do not sit down and commiserate with yourself, do not try to work something up but go directly to Him and seek His face, as the little child who is miserable and unhappy because somebody else has taken or broken his toy, runs to its father or its mother. So if you and I find ourselves afflicted by this condition, there is only one thing to do, it is to go to Him.

If you seek the Lord Jesus Christ and find him there is no need to worry about your happiness and your joy. He is our joy and our happiness, even as He is our peace. He is life, He is everything. So avoid the incitements and the temptations of Satan to give feelings this great prominence at the centre. Put at the centre the only One who has a right to be there, the Lord of Glory, Who so loved you that He went to the Cross and bore the punishment and the shame of your sins and died for you. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014


J. C. Ryle (1816 – 1900), Principles for Churchmen (London: William Hunt), 97–98:
Dislike of Bible doctrine is an epidemic which is just now doing great harm, and especially among young people. It produces what I must venture to call a “jelly-fish” Christianity in the land; that is a Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power. A jelly-fish is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little, delicate, transparent umbrella. Yet the same jelly-fish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defense, or self-preservation. Alas! It is a vivid type of much of the religion of this day, of which the leading principle is, “No dogma, no distinct tenets, no positive doctrine.” 
We have hundreds of “jelly-fish” preachers, who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They are so afraid of “extreme views” that they have no views at all. 
We have thousands of “jelly-fish” sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge, or a point, or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint. 
We have Legions of “jelly-fish” young men annually turned out from our Universities, armed with a few scraps of second-hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth. 
Worst of all, we have myriads of “jelly-fish” worshippers—respectable church-going people, who have no distinct and definite views about any point in theology. They cannot discern things that differ any more than color-blind people can distinguish colors. They think everybody is right and nobody wrong, everything is true and nothing is false, all sermons are good and none are bad, every preacher is sound and no preacher is unsound. They are “tossed to and fro, like children, by every wind of doctrine”; often carried away by any new excitement and sensational movement; ever ready for new things, because they have no firm grasp on the old; and utterly unable to “render a reason of the hope that is in them.”

Friday, August 22, 2014


Doug Wilson on goo-rot:

It has now started. The ubiquitous goo-rot of modern thought has advanced far enough that folks are now openly calling for a new sexual ethic among evangelicals. These new advances promise to be entirely exegesis-free, which in some quarters is quite a plus.

For example, see Tony Jones here. And Rachel Held Evans sobs out the “you go, girl” approach to these issues here. And then Barton Gingerich talks some sense here.

I would like to offer a couple comments, if I may. And I would like to do so without coming off like a dwarf shooting at the Calormenes and the horses both.

First, the fact that we are sexual beings, which nobody is denying, does not mean that we get to fornicate. The prohibitions and boundaries found in Scripture are given precisely because we are sexual beings. Scriptural morality knows that lust is a loaded gun, and even has to tell teenaged boys to stay away from the livestock. These commandments, and the high state of caution among those who respect such commandments as the Word of God, show a healthy respect for human sexuality. Wise men on a shooting range know that every gun is always loaded, and this approach is a respectful one. The same kind of mentality is necessary when it comes to our sexual desires and actions.

That said, those who want us to loosen up in this area do have one point, which I will get to in a minute. But it has to be said bluntly that they don’t have a point when it comes to what the sexual standard actually is. That is set by God, and it is set for His glory and our good. It is better to go into a marriage as two virgins than not. It is better not to have had a abortion, or to have a kid growing up somewhere else in the country, because you were pretty horny when you were fifteen. We can say this even while we recognize that the human race is sinful enough to be able even to screw virginity up, which we have done lots of ways, lots of times. Fine. But the scriptural standard for sexual expression still stands. Start with that as the baseline, and make sure that you don’t turn into Mrs. Grundy while you are at it. That would be fine too.

So where do they have a point? The point is that cheesiness does not really protect anyone from ravenous lust in any significant way. Campaigns about true love waiting, purity rings, etc. are a thin defense against what everybody wants to do as soon as they can. Sons and daughters are actually protected from immorality by having the right kind of relationship with the grace of God in the first place, and with the grace of their father and mother in the second place. This kind of thing can be communicated and taught, but it cannot be mass-produced and marketed with trinkets.

Only the grace of Jesus Christ can keep the pine sap of immorality off us in the first place, and only the grace of Jesus Christ can get it off us after the fact. Some sin is like dirt that washes right off. Other sins are more complicated than that, and sexual sin is in that category. But Oprah-sobs won’t do the job. That pine pitch comes off, but not by pretending it never got on.

Change the metaphor. This grace from Jesus Christ is not a little dollop of cream that we add to the top of our latte of traditional Victorianism — it is much more thoroughgoing than that. This thoroughgoing Jesus has a lot to say to all of us. The liberals need to listen to Him explain what sin is. The conservatives need to listen to Him explain what can actually keep us out of it.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

efca on ssm and ssa

The EFCA has published a clear and good statement on Human Sexuality. Read it here.

The Affirmations:

  1. Our views of this issue flow from our commitment to God (Dt. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-38) and to His Word (2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. Dt.32:45-47; Matt. 4:4), as expressed in the first two articles of our Statement of Faith. 
  2. God created human beings as male and female (Gen. 1:27). The complementary, relational nature of the human race as “male and female” reflects the created order given by God when He created human beings “in His image” (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1, 3; 9:6; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jms. 3:9; cf. Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10). It is with joy in our finitude that we are to receive the gift of being either male or female. 
  3. Scripture grants two life-enhancing options for sexual behavior: monogamous marital relations between one man and one woman (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18, 21-24; Matt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:5-8; cf. Heb. 13:4) or sexual celibacy (1 Cor. 7:7; Matt. 19:12). Either is a gift from God, given as He wills for His glory and the good of those who receive and rejoice in His gift to them. 
  4. In Scripture monogamous heterosexual marriage bears a significance which goes beyond the regulation of sexual behavior, the bearing and raising of children, the formation of families, and the recognition of certain economic and legal rights, all of which are important. Marriage between a woman and a man is emphatically declared in Scripture to create a “one flesh” union (Gen. 2:23-24; Matt. 19:5), which in turn signifies the mystery of the union between Christ and His body, the Church (Eph. 5:22-33). This means that the foundational understanding of marriage is as a covenant grounded in promises between a man and a woman which finds its divinely intended expression in the “one flesh” union of husband and wife, and between the “one flesh” union of husband and wife and God (cf. Prov. 2:16-17; Mal. 2:14; Eph. 5:31-32). 
  5. All of human existence, including our sexuality, has been deeply damaged by the fall into sin (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23; 5:12). We all are sinners, broken in some measure by this fall. Though Christians are rescued, reconciled, renewed and in process of being transformed, this brokenness also affects us in that we groan, as the whole creation, eager to experience final redemption knowing at present we live in a not-yet-glorified state (Rom. 8:22-23). 
  6. Everything, from our environment to our bodily genetic code, has been ravaged by sin and the fall. Whether the homosexual attractions people experience are the product of their environment, their genetics, or another source, they are not what God intends and so do not render homosexual behavior legitimate. 
  7. Temptation, including sexual attractions, is not sin. Sin is yielding to temptation. Jesus himself was tempted, yet without sin (Matt. 4:1-11, Heb. 4:15). 
  8. The Scriptures have much to say about sexual behavior, from the beautiful affirmations of the Song of Songs to the clear prohibitions found throughout the Bible (e.g., Rom. 13:13-14; 1 Cor. 5:1-2; 6:9-10, 15-18; Gal. 5:16-21; 1 Thess. 4:3-8). The Apostle Paul affirms that among believers “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (Eph. 5:3). All homosexual behavior is specifically condemned as sin in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen. 19:4-11[cf. 2 Pet. 2:6-7; Jude 7]; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Judges 19:22-25; Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). This includes both male and female homosexual activity, both the more passive and more active roles in homosexual practice, and all varieties of homosexual acts. 
  9. The gospel is full of grace and truth. It is an offer of grace and forgiveness to sinners as well as a call to live a holy life. It empowers us in the struggle to resist sin, including the sin of homosexual practice (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 4:20-24; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Tit. 2:11-13). 
  10. The church is to be a new community that resembles a family of brothers and sisters united in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit displaying deep relationships of love (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12-13; Rom. 12:10; 1 Tim. 5:1-2). Celibacy and singleness is to be celebrated and affirmed within the church family.

The Implications:
  1. We Christians who attempt to follow biblical mandates on sex and marriage are not immune to expressing our own sexuality in sinful ways, for "all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory" (Rom. 3:23). We must always be mindful of this and humbly relate to others accepting that we all are fallen creatures. 
  2. At the same time, all human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect because each of us bears the image of God. An LGBT3 person deserves this dignity and respect no less than any other, and we, as Christians, should demonstrate this in our thoughts, speech, and behavior. Speech, including humor, which demeans LGBT people, has no place in the Christian community. Likewise, this means we oppose any mistreatment of those who identify as LGBT. 
  3. We mourn with those who struggle with same sex attractions, and with their families, but as we grieve, we encourage behavior that follows the clear divine teachings of Scripture. 
  4. We must carefully distinguish between same-sex attraction, sinful lust, self-selected identification, and sexual behavior. It is not a sin to be tempted in the area of same gender sex. Jesus himself was tempted, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He sympathizes with our weaknesses, and he promises to provide a way of escape in every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). 
  5. In some cases it may not be wrong for a person to self-identify as LGBT. This may be a way for the person to identify the stable trajectory of the person’s sexual attractions or acknowledge the struggles she or he faces with same-sex attraction. However, such self-identification may in fact be sinful if it includes an insistence upon behaviors that express that attraction. Moreover, a believer's fundamental identification should be first as a person “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:4-10; cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11); the prioritization of sexual identity must be seen as a form of idolatry. 
  6. Some heterosexual acts are sinful, but all homosexual acts are sinful according to Scripture. One may not equate morally a committed heterosexual relationship within marriage with a committed homosexual relationship. 
  7. Though recognizing that due to sin and human brokenness our experience of our sex and gender is not always as God the Creator originally designed, our recognition of our sex as male or female as a gift from God dictates that we cannot support or affirm the resolution of tension between a person's biological sex and experience of gender by the adoption of a psychological identity discordant with that person’s birth sex, nor support or affirm attempts to change via medical intervention one's given biological birth sex in favor of the identity of the opposite sex or of an indeterminate identity.4 
  8. We in the Church must seek ways to minister to and support those among us who struggle with same-sex attractions, and those who have family members or others close to them who identify as LGBT 
  9. We in the Church must seek ways to reach out in love to those in our society who identify as LGBT. 
  10. We regard marriage as a good creation of God, and marriage within the Church as a rite and institution tied directly to our foundational belief of God as creator who made us male and female. We also regard marriage as a sacred institution which images the mysterious and wonderful bond between Christ and His Church. To us, then, marriage is much more than merely a contract between two persons (a secular notion). It is a covenant grounded in promises between a man and a woman which finds its divinely intended expression in the “one flesh” union of husband and wife, and between the “one flesh” union of husband and wife and God (the divine design). We therefore will only authorize and recognize heterosexual marriages. 
  11. Recognizing the church as a family, we will seek ways to encourage deep spiritual friendships, with a special effort to include those who are single. We will model the counter-cultural reality that intimate, loving relationships need not be erotic. 
In all these implications we must never compromise the biblical standard for sexuality while at the same time we must treat everyone, including those who identify as LGBT, with gentleness, compassion, and love, while pointing them to the only hope any of us have, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. We will be “welcoming but not affirming”.

kindness through christ

Martin Luther on never tiring of the gospel of God’s grace:

People don’t earn God’s approval or receive life and salvation because of anything they’ve done. Rather, the only reason they receive life and salvation is because of God’s kindness through Christ. There is no other way.

Many Christians are tired of hearing this teaching over and over. They think that they learned it all long ago. However, they barely understand how important it really is. If it continues to be taught as truth, the Christian church will remain united and pure — free from decay. This truth alone makes and sustains Christianity. You might hear an immature Christian brag about how well he knows that we receive God’s approval through God’s kindness and not because of anything we do to earn it. But if he goes on to say that this is easy to put into practice, then have no doubt he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he probably never will. We can never learn this truth completely or brag that we understand it fully. Learning this truth is an art. We will always remain students of it, and it will always be our teacher.

The people who truly understand that they receive God’s approval by faith and put this into practice don’t brag that they have fully mastered it. Rather, they think of it as a pleasant taste or aroma that they are always pursuing. These people are astonished that they can’t comprehend it as fully as they would like. They hunger and thirst for it. They yearn for it more and more. They never get tired of hearing about this truth.

faith rejoices

Martin Luther on Hebrews 3:13:

It is rightly called the deceitfulness of sin because it deceives under the appearance of the good. This phrase ‘the deceitfulness of sin’ ought to be understood in a much wider sense, so that the term includes even one’s own righteousness and wisdom. For more than anything else one’s own righteousness and wisdom deceive one and work against faith in Christ, since we love the flesh and the sensations of the flesh and also riches and possessions, but we love nothing more ardently than our own feelings, judgment, purpose, and will, especially when they seem to be good. For the same reason Christ said, when he healed the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, that it was impossible for such people to be able to believe: ‘How can you believe who receive glory from one another?’ (John 5:44). Why are they not able to believe? Because the ‘deceitfulness of sin,’ that is, the love of their own righteousness, blinds them and hardens their heart. Yet at the same time they think it a good thing to glory in their own righteousness and be pleased with it, though that indeed is the very worst of all vices, the extreme antithesis of faith. Faith rejoices and glories in the righteousness of God alone, that is, in Christ himself.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


Kevin DeYoung writes Four Brief Theses on Suicide. I found this helpful.

The news last week of Robin Williams’ death was painful for millions of people, not only because he was a beloved entertainer (count me a fan of his clean stuff) but because suicide is not a topic which lands on us lightly. This is especially true for the countless number of Christians who are still grieving for loved ones or who have struggled with suicidal thoughts themselves. Not surprisingly, in the wake of such big national news, the internet lit up with commentary and critique, point and counterpoint. Some of it helpful, some of it not so much.

Without trying to sift through all that has been said, and without pretending to say everything that needs to be said about such a difficult subject, I thought it might be helpful to try to cut through some of the fog and look at four brief theses. Perhaps these can help us think theologically and pastorally about suicide.

1. The subject of suicide should be approached sensitively and compassionately.

We need to know the time and the place. This is a blog post addressed to a general audience, so I don’t believe it’s insensitive to step back and parse out “four theses” on suicide. But I would not present four points like this to someone mourning the death of a friend or to someone contemplating suicide. Those situations call for hugs, tears, questions, listening, personal contact, and prayer–all things that are impossible or nearly impossible in a general blog post. Having said that, even in a general piece to no one in particular, we must keep in mind that anyone may be reading. The wise Christian is always aware that people are listening with different ears. For some this topic is an interesting theological question. For others, they are thinking about how to minister effectively when the need arises. And for others, the mere mention of suicide summons from within them a pain too deep for words.

2. Suicide is complicated and happens for different reasons.

I think many people were angry at the critical responses to Robin Williams’ death because the critiques failed to grasp–or at least landed on people as failing to grasp–the moral differences surrounding the different contexts for suicide. Surely someone struggling with depression on and off for twenty years who takes his own life deserves more sympathy than the man who loses everything on the stock market and jumps off the 75th floor in a moment of monetary loss. There is a moral difference between the person who gets caught in adultery and–full of embarrasment and an unwillingness to face his sin–commits suicide, as opposed to the person who finds out she was cheated on and, feeling her life cannot go on, decides to end it. The person who guns down children and then kills himself is selfish and evil and a hundred other things. The person who takes his own life while in the throes of a depression that is unwanted, unbidden, and seemingly unending will be appraised much differently. Our last action–even a sinful one–does not define the totality of our existence. We are right to remember all that was good and true in those who succumb to the temptation to self-destruction.

3. Suicide is a sin.

Of course, this is not what I would lead with in pastoral counseling or in pastoral care or in conducting a funeral, but it is one aspect of this difficult topic we cannot avoid. While there may be extreme cases where a suicidal person has clearly lost control of all his faculties (i.e., dementia, closed head injuries), in the vast majority of cases we are right to see suicide as a morally culpable and morally blameworthy choice. For centuries, the church has consistently viewed suicide as a violation of the sixth commandment. Self-murder is still murder. As John Frame points out in The Doctrine of the Christian Life, there are five instances of suicide in Scripture (Judges 9:52-54; 1 Sam. 31:3-5; 2 Sam. 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18-19; Matt. 27:3-5) and all of them are in a context of shame and defeat (p. 738). Likewise, when more noble characters ask God to take their lives, God never obliges (Num. 11:12-15; 1 Kings 19:4; Jonah 4:1-11). In the cases of Jonah and Job, God clearly views their self-destructive requests unfavorably.

While we want to empathize with those who suffer–from regret or depression or disease or any other unrelenting malady–surely it is poor ethical reasoning to think that suffering is the means which justifies any end. As we saw yesterday, our choices should be deemed “free” so long as they are not subject to external coercion and compulsion. Julie Gossack–a wife and mother who has five times had to suffer through the suicide of a family member–sums up the matter well: “Suicide is not a genetic trait nor is it a family curse. Suicide is a sinful choice made by an individual. This statement is neither unloving nor disrespectful. It is the truth. I dearly loved my family members that committed suicide, but their choices were sinful and not righteous” (JBCWinter: 2006, 22). Suicide may feel like the only way out, but Scripture tell us God will never lead us into a situation where violating his commands is the only option (1 Cor. 10:13). We do not help struggling saints by refusing to tell them that suicide is displeasing to God; lovingly spoken that may be one of the means by which God jolts the suicidal soul back to better, more godly thinking.

4. Suicide is not the unforgiveable sin.

We do not have a system of penance and last rites. While it is particularly sad for a Christian to die in this way–confused and without hope–this loss of perspective does not necessarily mean the person was not a born again, justified Christian. John Frame, who argues that suicide is sinful, also tells the story of a missionary friend who drew closer to Jesus as he battled depression, but in the end killed himself. Frame doesn’t hesitate to say confidently that this man was a genuine Christian (p. 39). We are saved by the blood of Christ, not by whether our last moment was triumphant or tragic. Suicide should not be lightly dismissed. It is unimaginably painful and displeasing to God. But for the truly repentant, truly believing, truly justified child of God, God is greater than our sins, even ones that grip is in our dying breaths.

For more resources on suicide, check out the list of articles at CCEF. They are worth the few dollars it may cost to access them.

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.