A Distraction

I just finished reading Preston Sprinkle’s book  People to be Loved.  There were numerous flaws with the book. It reminded me of a man throwing a cup of water on a burning a house and claiming he is fighting the fire. If the best you can say about a book on this subject is at least he doesn’t believe men should have sex with men then it is not going to help fight the battle. My goal is to review various sections of the book. I want to begin with one of the more persistent lines you see from the gay Christian movement: same sex attraction is not just about sex.  Here is Sprinkle:

Being gay doesn’t mean you walk around want to have lots of gay sex any more than being straight means that you walk around wanting to have lots of straight sex. Have a same-sex orientation includes a wealth of other virtuous emotions and desires towards members of the same sex; it cannot be narrowly reduced to a volcanic hunger for sex. Same-sex orientation includes the desire for conversational intimacy, same-sex physical touch, emotional bonds, companionship, doing life together, and expressing mutual affection toward members of the same sex.  And if all of this sounds “gay” to you then David and Jonathan really were gay, since I am alluding to 1-2 Samuel.

He goes on to quote with approval lesbian Julie Rodgers

[same-sex attraction is] an overall draw toward someone of the same sex, which is usually a desire for a deeper level intimacy with those of the same sex. Just like a heterosexual orientation can’t be reduced to a desire for straight sex, a gay orientation can’t be reduced to a desire for gay sex. This longing for intimacy is usually experienced as a desire for nearness, for partnership, for close friendship, rich conversation, and an overall appreciation of beauty.

Again Sprinkle:

Most gay Christians I know say the same thing. Same-sex attraction is much broader than just a drooling desire for gay sex. Such attraction includes a virtuous desire to be intimate-in the David and Jonathan or Jesus and John sense of the phrase-with people of the same sex.

I would love to see quotes from Christians who think people who struggle with SSA walk around with a “drooling desire for gay sex.”  Sprinkle does this a lot in the book where he puts words in the mouths of conservative Christians (with no citations) that I have never heard a conservative Christian in the pew, from the pulpit, in an article, or in a book say. Perhaps he is thinking of Westboro and folks like that.  But conservative Christians distance themselves from groups like this over and over.

But besides the condescension towards conservative Christians, he repeats the mistake I often see in gay Christian literature: It isn’t about sex. We can see the problem with this proposition by asking a simple question: What separates SSA from the desire for close, intimate friendship with someone of the same sex? Right. Sex. If there is no sexual component then it isn’t SSA. A man can have a close intimate friendship with another man without it being sexual. Men have done this for thousands of years and Christian men have done this for just as long. They have kissed each other, embraced each other, wept with each other, spent nights together talking, slept in the same bed, swam naked, showered together, etc. without there being a sexual component. The desire for male physical affection and emotional intimacy does not make it same-sex attraction.

Same-sex attraction does not simply mean you have or desire close friendships with people of the same sex. It means the desire for closeness with a member of the same sex that includes a romantic/sexual component. Without that it is just a close friendship between people of the same sex, which all Christians should have and should work for. This is the reason why the sexual/erotic aspect of SSA should be front and center. It is what makes SSA, SSA. The friendship angle pushed by gay-Christian groups is a distraction.  Friendship is part of SSA, just as friendship is part of marriage. But that is not its central or defining trait. Without the sexual/romantic component it isn’t same-sex attraction.

Sexual Orientation or Sexual Temptation?

LGBTQ

I have been listening to Tim Bayly’s Shepherds’ Conference on ministering in a post-Obergefell World.  Tim has worked with homosexuals and lesbians in Bloomington for over 30 years. He is not speaking as someone who has read a book or two, watched a couple of Youtube videos, or had a homosexual friend in college. He speaks as a pastor who has prayed with and for sodomites, has loved them, preached to them, cried over them, and seen them repent. He has many stories about working with homosexuals as well as stories about compromise in evangelical circles. These add substance to what he is saying even if it makes him long winded at points.

He makes the suggestion that we drop the term “sexual orientation” and use sexual temptation instead.  So instead of saying “same-sex orientation” we would say, “same sex temptation.” I have thought about the term sexual orientation quite a bit lately as I read Preston Sprinkle’s book People to be Loved.  Terms and words matter. Sprinkle throughout his book nuances words to death. Every word is carefully chosen. He parses out why we shouldn’t use “homosexual,” “gay,” etc.  He knows words matter. Conservative Christians need to understand this as well. What words we use to describe things will often shape the entire discussion.  I like the suggestion of using temptation instead of orientation in connection with homosexuality for several reasons.

First, it will help us see sodomy as one type of the many sexual temptations we all face. Those who struggle with this sin are not worse than us nor better than us nor different than us. Tim talked about his own fornication and how when he got married his wife was pregnant. All of us struggle with sexual temptation of various kinds and to various degrees throughout our life. I saw my first porn magazine (yes real paper) when I was eleven years old. It lay beside the road. My friend from church said his dad, a deacon, had videos with more of that. We went back and watched porn on VHS. This struggled continued through Bible college and the early years of marriage until I was about 25 years old.  I am so grateful there was no Internet when I was young. Many of you I guess have similar stories. Some of you still watch porn on your phones during your lunch break or at night when your wife is asleep.  Some of you slept around in high school and don’t want any of your Christian friends to know. We could do this with any temptation not just sexual ones. The point here is if we label it temptation it puts that sin or the struggle with that sin on level with the sins all Christians struggle with. We are all sinners working, agonizing to fight the lusts which wage war against our souls (I Peter 2:11).  Continue reading

It is a Great Vice to Waste the Sermon

pulpitHere is a section from John Calvin’s sermon on I Corinthians 11:17-19.

It is necessary to consider why the Lord wishes that the Church congregate, that there be a certain place, that there be a sanctuary designated for the invocation of his name and the preaching of his word….There must be some goal in order that whatever God has established among us may serve and be useful for our salvation. No one should return home without having gotten some good from the worship service…we come here to hear the word of God, we offer prayers for and with each other and we partake of the sacraments. Afterwards, each one of us in our own home will have some idea of what to do to manifest our Christianity. We must by no means think ourselves acquitted before God because we have heard the sermon each week, prayed in the company of believers, professed our faith, and participated in the sacraments. We must not, I say,  be beguiled into thinking that God is altogether satisfied if we do those things, but we must consider their end and their utility, profiting by being daily confirmed in the fear of God and by the increase of our faith. In brief, we must show that it is not in vain that we have been to the school of our God, for it is indeed a profanation of the doctrine we hear if we continue in the same condition as formerly. 

[Later he says]: This is an exceedingly great and intolerable vice. The result is that we assemble in worship and our lives do not show any semblance of improvement. We act as if we had never heard a single word, had never been instructed in the will of God. If we differ in no respect from those misfortunates who have received no instruction, do we not thereby show that we scorned God every time we come the sanctuary in his name? It is flagrant hypocrisy and duplicity to claim that it is to offer ourselves sacrificially to God when we come to hear his word and yet depart without having been edified by it.

Continue reading

Guilt Has Staying Power

hands-in-bloodHere is a long but fascinating essay on how despite the loss of God in our culture we are still guilty and how that guilt leads us to identify with victims and in many cases become victims.  Throughout the author discusses forgiveness as therapy, the idea of war reparations, the loss of the concept of sin, and the rash of fabricated memoirs and what those indicate about our world. My take away is that without the substitutionary atonement of Christ there is no remission of guilt. Without Christ men will try to alleviate their guilt, but without success. Here are a couple of paragraphs to get you started.

In the new therapeutic dispensation, however, forgiveness is all about the forgiver, and his or her power and well-being. We have come a long way from Shakespeare’s Portia, who spoke so memorably in The Merchant of Venice about the unstrained “quality of mercy,” which “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven” and blesses both “him that gives and him that takes.” And an even longer way from Christ’s anguished cry from the cross, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”And perhaps even further yet from the most basic sense of forgiveness, the canceling of a monetary debt or the pardoning of a criminal offense, in either case a very conscious suspension of the entirely rightful demands of justice.

We still claim to think well of forgiveness, but it has in fact very nearly lost its moral weight by having been translated into an act of random kindness whose chief value lies in the sense of personal release it gives us. “Forgiveness,” proclaimed the journalist Gregg Easterbrook writing at Beliefnet, “is good for your health.” Like the similar acts of confession or apology, and other transactions in the moral economy of sin and guilt, forgiveness is in danger of being debased into a kind of cheap grace, a waiving of standards entirely, standards without which such transactions have little or no moral significance. Forgiveness only makes sense in the presence of a robust conception of justice. Without that, it is in real danger of being reduced to something passive and automatic and flimsy—a sanctimonious way of saying that nothing really matters very much at all…

Victimhood at its most potent promises not only release from responsibility, but an ability to displace that responsibility onto others. As a victim, one can project onto another person, the victimizer or oppressor, any feelings of guilt he might harbor, and in projecting that guilt lift it from his own shoulders. The result is an astonishing reversal, in which the designated victimizer plays the role of the scapegoat, upon whose head the sin comes to rest, and who pays the price for it. By contrast, in appropriating the status of victim, or identifying oneself with victims, the victimized can experience a profound sense of moral release, of recovered innocence. It is no wonder that this has become so common a gambit in our time, so effectively does it deal with the problem of guilt—at least individually, and in the short run, though at the price of social pathologies in the larger society that will likely prove unsustainable…

For all its achievements, modern science has left us with at least two overwhelmingly important, and seemingly insoluble, problems for the conduct of human life. First, modern science cannot instruct us in how to live, since it cannot provide us with the ordering ends according to which our human strivings should be oriented. In a word, it cannot tell us what we should live for, let alone what we should be willing to sacrifice for, or die for.

And second, science cannot do anything to relieve the guilt weighing down our souls, a weight to which it has added appreciably, precisely by rendering us able to be in control of, and therefore accountable for, more and more elements in our lives—responsibility being the fertile seedbed of guilt. That growing weight seeks opportunities for release, seeks transactional outlets, but finds no obvious or straightforward ones in the secular dispensation. Instead, more often than not we are left to flail about, seeking some semblance of absolution in an incoherent post-Christian moral economy that has not entirely abandoned the concept of sin but lacks the transactional power of absolution or expiation without which no moral system can be bearable.

How is the World Reassembled?

Christopher Ash in his book The Priority of Preaching spends an entire chapter talking about how the preached word is God’s method for bringing people who very different from one another together in harmony. He talks about how human beings are scattered because of sin. In Christ they are brought back together. He uses the term “reassemble” to describe this process. Here is a summary of a portion of that chapter along with a quote at the end.

The broken world cannot be reassembled by:
  •  Technology: We are finding that technology does not reassemble people at all.  We still “connect” with those most like us. 
  • Force: A unity created by force is lost as soon as the source of that force is lost, such as a king or ruler.
  • Natural Human Affection: There is no natural human affection that will reassemble people who are not like each other. Naturally we divide. Naturally we get into our little circles and stay there. 
  • Religion: There can be religious assemblies that gather people together.  However, because they reject God and refuse to submit to his word they are assemblies of lies and deceit.  They are dangerous and they do not bring together diverse groups of people. Nor do they heal what is really broken.
The world can only be reassembled through grace.
“Only the preached word of Christ, the word of grace preached again and again and again, pressed home with passion and engagement, only that word will create God’s assembly to rebuild a broken world. It has been said that the church is crater formed by the impact of the word of God (Karl Barth); or that ‘the scriptures are God’s voice, the church is his echo’ (John Donne). Those are vivid pictures. But it is perhaps more scriptural to say that the church is the living organism conceived, shaped and grown by the seed of the word of God within (cf. James 1:18, 21; 1 Pet. 1:23). The church’s DNA is the DNA of the preached word of God. And by that word Jesus gathers unlikely people.”

Snoring, Vomiting, and Flirting During Calvin’s Sermons

I am really enjoying Scott Manetsch’s book Calvin’s Company of Pastors. It is history done right with the right amount of detail and the avoidance of simplistic viewpoints.  At my church the children are in worship. This creates a fair amount of distractions from crying to kids falling and hitting their heads to children arguing with each other. Therefore I found this description of what attending a sermon in Geneva often looked liked encouraging. My comments are in brackets.

The Genevan ideal of a simple, well-ordered service in which the faithful attentively listened to, understood, and responded to the Word of God was not always achieved in practice. [Good to know this is not just a 21st century problem.] A variety of discomforts and distractions made attendance at sermons a challenging experience for even the most devout at times. The city’s churches could be stifling hot in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter. On several occasions the frigid winter weather prompted the ministers to move services from the cavernous temple of St. Pierre to the smaller (and warmer) church of St. Germain…There were also plenty of human distractions. Between 1541 and 1609, a long litany of nuisances great and small elicited the complaints of ministers as well as parishioners. Members of the congregation frequently arrived late to Sunday worship [That never happens today], missing the congregational singing and the introductory prayers. Others left early [Can’t miss the start of the game.], causing a commotion during the concluding baptismal service. At weekday sermons in the church at St. Gervais, parishioners sometimes found it difficult to hear the preacher because of the noise caused by the blacksmith shops nearby. In Geneva’s churches, babies often wailed, dogs barked, and schoolboys chatted happily through the morning sermon. Worshipers were also distracted when people succumbed to violent coughing fits, when drunkards vomited in full view of the assembly, or when weary souls fell asleep and snored along with the sermon. Some people chased controversy and invited complaints when they brought more than their Psalter hymnals with them to church. In 1560, for example, Francoise Frochet made a spectacle of herself when she came to the sermon at St. Pierre’s  carrying apples, pears, and chestnuts [What did they do with the cores, throw them at the pastor?], which she noisily shared with those sitting next to her. Pierre Toulieu also got into trouble when he sat through a worship service in a countryside church with his musket propped up on his shoulder [Wonder what that pastor thought? Is he going to shoot me?] and his hunting dog sleeping at his feet. It is clear, moreover, that many townspeople welcomed the preaching service as an opportunity to socialize with friends or flirt with members of the opposite sex rather than listen to the sermon. The case of Benjamin Maret and Antoine Grifferat is altogether typical. Maret and Grifferat were brought before the Consistory [Church leaders in Geneva] in 1563 for having talked and laughed throughout the Sunday morning sermon at the temple of St. Pierre. After extensive questioning, Maret admitted to flirting with a young woman in a red bonnet [I think I am predestined to be with you.] while Grifferat confessed to chatting with a friend for part of the service “but not during the entire sermon.” Due to such noise and distractions, some people found it difficult to concentrate on the preacher’s sermon.

I love this paragraph because it is a reminder of two things.

First, churches, people, and worship don’t change. There are always distractions in worship. There always have been. That picture you have in your head of everyone sitting quietly listening to the sermon is a lie. Sometimes I get irritated at the noise in worship. But why? Worship does not take place in some pristine world without noise and distractions.

Second, God works in worship services despite the distractions.  The preached Word week after week changed the men and women of Geneva despite vomit, cold, heat, snoring, and babies. And that Word changes us as well, despite bathroom breaks, microphones that don’t work, crying babies, a two year old hitting her older brother, and flirting teenagers.

Vatican II on Scripture

One of the common ideas in the current ecumenical climate is that Vatican II altered or at least has the potential to alter the relationship between Protestants and Roman Catholics. There were major changes made at Vatican II, particularly liturgical changes and softening of the RC Church’s stance towards those outside the church. But many central assertions remained. One of the greatest divides, if not the greatest, between Roman Catholics and Protestants is the authority of the Bible and the authority of tradition. Vatican II did not alter the Roman Catholic Church’s view on tradition and Scripture. Here are some quotes from Vatican II

The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church.

Sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.

It is not from sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything that has been revealed. So, both sacred tradition are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of devotion and reverence.

Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, which is committed to the Church.

Matthew Barrett comments on these quotes saying,

While the document goes on to say, “this teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it,” Vatican II cannot meant this in the way that the Reformers did, for it then says this teaching office “draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed.” So while this teaching office may serve the Word of God, it originates from the one holy deposit along with Scripture and must be equally revered as God’s Word.

There is debate in Roman Catholic circles about what all of this means. But that is largely irrelevant. The institution of Roman Catholicism is built on tradition plus Scripture. In the end, unity is impossible if one group accepts two divinely received sources of authority and the other group accepts only one and rejects the other.