With all the focus on abortion, it is easy to forget that just a few weeks ago the highest court in the land ruled that every state must approve of same sex marriage. This issue may prove to more divisive in churches over the next few years than abortion. How do we approach professing Christians who disagree with us on sodomy/same sex marriage? I want to give some guidelines for how to navigate these disagreements.
Shepherd or Sheep?
The Bible teaches that those in authority will be held to a higher standard than those who are being taught by them. James 3:1 is the classic statement on this point.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
In the Bible shepherds are rebuked for their failures to care for the sheep by teaching them truth. Israel was in danger because her shepherds were hirelings (John 10:13). The New Testament writers warned their readers over and over again about false teachers. The first question to ask when a person is soft on sodomy or is gently gliding towards “God approves of same sex marriage” is are they shepherd or sheep? We should treat shepherds and sheep differently. A false teacher must be rebuked and often with strong admonitions. These rebukes should involve solid arguments and proof from Scripture of their errors. But eventually a true shepherd will warn the sheep to avoid these men and women (I Timothy 1:20, II Timothy 2:17-18, Titus 3:10, II John 1:10-11).
In our culture, it is not easy to separate shepherd from sheep. In the old days, it was difficult to get any traction if you did not have some type of official authority. You had to be ordained or work at a seminary or something like that. But now all you need is a keyboard and wi-fi and you too can become a teacher. It is possible for a lay person through the power of the internet to actually have more power over people than a pastor. Some examples of teachers in our culture are: pastors, elders, professors at colleges and seminaries, bloggers, writers of books, magazine articles, etc.
Many times these people will claim to not be teachers. “I am just a blogger thinking out loud.” Or “I am just a professor doing some research. I am not making any dogmatic claims.” Or “I am not ordained. I am just a Christian trying to help other Christians.” That is a smokescreen, a ruse to avoid real accountability. You can’t write or speak exerting influence over people and trying to persuade them and then claim not to be a teacher.
Teachers who are soft on sodomy, talk in “nuance,” refuse to take a stand on the issue, refuse to call those involved to repentance, or actively promote homosexuality need to be called out publicly. And no, you don’t have to send them a private email first. They are teachers. They are destroying souls. They are wolves who need a true shepherd to drive them out. Shepherds, such as pastors, elders, and seminary professors are the primary ones responsible for rebuking these false teachers (Acts 20:29-30).
Shepherds need to be called out and rebuked. But what about the sheep, the professing Christian sitting in the pew? Here are four different groups of professing Christians you might meet, their views/relationship to sodomy and how we should interact with them.
First, is the apologist for sodomy. This is a professing Christian who thinks sodomy is a legitimate expression of the Christian faith and they promote this idea. This person does not have to be a homosexual nor do they have to be mean. They are often gentle and kind. They are not always militant. But they are trying to persuade people that Jesus approves of same sex relationships. This person is a predator and should be dealt with quickly and decisively. You should not associate with this person, except to evangelize and/or rebuke them. In many ways this person is like the shepherd above. They are promoting a practice that sends people to Hell. They obviously should not be a part of your church. Bad company corrupts good morals (I Cor. 15:33). People who are proselytizing for sodomy are dangerous.
Second, is a professing Christian who approves of sodomy but does not push the idea. The difference between this person and the first one is the second does not promote homosexuality even though they think it is fine and may practice it. They will usually have a live and let live mentality. This person is probably not a threat to you or your family, but you still should be wary of the influence their lifestyle might have. Many well meaning Christians have flipped on sodomy because they became friends with a homosexual and found out they were nice. You wouldn’t want this second person to be a close friend. This person should not be a member of your church either. A person who approves of sodomy, even if they do not practice it, is in danger of Hell. But as long they are not ramming things down your throat you can maintain a relationship and look for opportunities to encourage them to repent of their sodomy (if they are practicing homosexuals) or to correct their thinking.
These first two groups are not Christians in any meaningful sense of the word. Paul is clear that sodomites will not inherit the kingdom of God (I Cor. 6:9).
Third, is the Christian who is genuinely confused by the issue. They have some sympathy for homosexuals. They do not want to be thought of as mean or unloving. But they also have reservations. They are not sure what the Scriptures teach. They know that sodomy was considered a great sin throughout most of church history. This person needs careful, patient, and clear teaching on what the Scriptures say about homosexuality. The difference between this person and the second is the firmness of their convictions. The first and second person are convinced that sodomy is fine for Christians. This third person is wavering.
Finally, you have Christians who are refugees from the homosexual world. These might be actual homosexuals/lesbians who have left the lifestyle or folks who had bought into the lie and now are trying to get back to what the Scriptures teach. This group will swell over the next couple of decades. Churches should be prepared for a steady influx of those who are disillusioned with or broken by sodomy and the lies surrounding it. Depending upon the situation these people will need a heavy dose of Jesus, particularly the forgiveness of sins, help in overcoming bad habits, otherwise known as sanctification, lots of love, and good solid teaching over a long period of time.
A person who belongs to any of these four groups should not be a teacher or leader in the church or the church community, including the online community. Obviously, the first and second person are disqualified from teaching God’s people because they believe something contrary to the Scriptures. They are false teachers. The third person is confused. There are some issues it is okay for a shepherd to say, “I am not sure about that.” This is not one of them. A person who is confused about sodomy should not be teaching God’s people. The fourth person could eventually become a teacher of God’s people, but they would need to grow in sanctification and their understanding of God’s Word before they would be qualified. It is possible they will never be qualified depending upon the circumstances.
The church needs protection from the first group.
The first and second group both need to be evangelized.
The third group needs patient teaching.
The final group need a loving church that preaches Jesus, models Jesus, and will help the person grow into Christ’s likeness.
Being able to distinguish between shepherd and sheep and between these four groups will help us to effectively minister to people involved in, approving of, practicing, or coming out of homosexuality.