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Posts Tagged ‘1984’


We as an assembly wanted not simply theological clarity, but also pastoral wisdom as we engage with a massive cultural shift. At least that is what I wanted. I felt like I was ill-prepared to lovingly engage people who struggle with same-sex attraction. I’ve had friends who suffered secretly, until they left their spouses. Some of them I suspected, and some I didn’t. I’ve only had one congregant “come out” to me as bisexual. I should have engaged this person more on how it impacted marriage for them. I didn’t want to open a can of worms I felt ill-prepared to handle.

The Report notes that such pastoral care requires special consideration. We do need to communicate that all people are made in the image of God, and all Christians are being renewed in that image. Our various struggles are not a denial of this, but part of the process. Faithful discipleship is possible, even if people struggle with same-sex attraction. Life is about more than sexual attraction, though the world seemingly wants to reduce us to our sexual desires. The Spirit produces the fruit of character in our lives which impact how one experiences and expresses sexual attraction.

The Report addresses two common errors as we consider sanctification. These two errors reflect the “Already-Not Yet” tension that we live in as Christians. There are elements of our salvation that we have already received and experience. There are other elements that our salvation that we have not yet received and experience. When we push too much of the “not yet” into the “already” we have an over-realized eschatology (expectations set too high). When we deny too much of the “already” and delay it for the “not yet” we have an under-realized eschatology (expectations set too low).

The error of some Christian approaches to same-sex sexual desire has been to tie faithfulness to the elimination of homosexual temptation (or even the development of heterosexual desire) as though if Christians really did enough therapy, had enough faith, or repented sufficiently, God would deliver them in some final and complete way, changing their orientation. This perspective reflects a sort of over-realized eschatology—a view that what we will be finally and fully in the new creation will be realized in that way in the present life. Against such a view, our Confession reminds us that even in the regenerate, the corruption of sin remains in this life (WCF6.5). The task for believers is to pursue faithfulness and obedience in this life, holding in view our new creation selves into which we are progressively, though often with many fits and starts, being conformed.

Some expect same-sex attraction to end or at least become so rare as to be seemingly insignificant. This is often stated with the other side of the coin, the development of heterosexual desire. God can and does do this. But He doesn’t do it for every person who repents and believes. Have all your temptations been removed? I doubt it.

This is a push back on the Exodus International model of ministering to homosexuals. Revoice was also a push back, but not as tempered as this one. They seem to have gone to the other extreme (an under-realized eschatology that expects little/no change). Whether or not a person continues to experience same-sex attraction is largely under the providence of God. What a person does with those desires is a matter of their personal sanctification. Corruption of all kinds remains in us, and we are to pursue faithfulness in the midst of that.

The Report then pushes back on Revoice’s pessimism regarding change. It really is hard to maintain balance, and that only through the gospel. We are not to lapse into legalism to fight pessimism. Nor are we to lapse into antinomianism to fight the unrealistic expectations of an over-realized eschatology.

The error of other Christian approaches to same-sex sexual desire is to treat it as a sort of fixed reality that has no malleability or capacity for change whatsoever. In its most extreme forms, this reflects our broader culture’s notions of one’s sexual orientation being a completely fixed reality—contending that there is no sense in which sexual desires can meaningfully change over time. The problem with this under-realized eschatology is that in its attempts to push back against views of change that overstate the Christian’s sense of having “arrived,”it suggests that there is no journey to take at all and no progress to be expected. However, the Biblical perspective is that the Holy Spirit uses repentance with the ordinary means of grace to advance Christian understanding, godly desires, and Biblical obedience. If a believer struggles with habitual sexual sin, we should expect to see real meaningful change in their behaviors as they repent and mortify their sin, and pursue holiness in aggressive, practical ways. If believers are routinely tempted along similar lines over the course of life, they should expect that the less they give in to that temptation and establish deep habits of holiness, over time the pull of their hearts toward that sin should lessen, or even be drowned out by the expulsive power of a greater affection for Christ.

We are to repent of on-going sin. Making use of the ordinary means of grace we should expect to see some measure of growth. A lack of growth (not perfection) MAY be a sign of a lack of godly disciplines. But the flesh is stubborn and does oppose all attempts at godliness.

Pastors should regularly communicate the Already-Not Yet tension clearly. It is not just for people struggling with same-sex attraction. While there is generally no immediate deliverance, such sinful desires need to be mortified, starved. The goal, unlike that expressed by some I’ve talked with, is not heterosexuality, but Christlikeness. We will become like Christ, when He appears. Until then we purify ourselves. We have not arrived, and will not in this earthly life.

While all this seems obvious, it would not seem so based on the conversations PCA pastors were having on this issue with regards to sanctification. The Report gives us good counsel.

Biblical Identity

We all have a sense of who we are, who we believe ourselves to be. The Report points us to the redemptive-historical narrative to understand our identity. We have an ontological identity as being made in the image of God by God as dependent upon Him. We are made male or female, which means these are not simply cultural constructions (we can, and do, socially/culturally construct what being a man or woman means). In footnote 53, referencing Ryan Peterson they say “we have both created identities which are indelible, central, and come from God, and constructed identities, which are our more malleable attempts to interpret our particular experiences and relationships in the world.”

We also have a phenomenological identity, how we experience ourselves as sinners in a sinful world. We should be honest about our sin and misery, the ways in which the Fall is part of us. This is our identity as sinner (alcoholic, glutton etc.) and sinned against (sexual abuse survivor/victim, oppressed minority …). These are real, but not our primary identity.

Our primary identity as Christians is our teleological identity received through our union with Christ. Who we are “in Christ” is the most important part of our identity. This doesn’t over-ride our phenomenological identity, as if we were no longer sinners but is of greater importance and therefore should be our emphasis.

The Report notes its limitations in scope in unpacking what it means to be in Christ. It makes some summary statements. We are justified in Christ, receiving His perfect righteousness as our very own. We also receive the other half of the double grace, sanctification. We don’t get one without the other but receive the whole Christ and the wholeness of salvation despite the reality of the already-not yet tension.

Sexual Identity

The Report asks how we are to think of our sexual identity in light of the redemptive-historical identities. Regardless of our sexual identities, we are ontologically made in the image of God and under His authority. All people have dignity and should be shown respect as image bearers. The Report rightly declares there should be no second-class citizens based on particular struggles. While acknowledging the reality of intersex, they affirm that we should not otherwise deny the reality of gender as rooted in creation.

However, we must also acknowledge the ways in which our sexual identities are shaped by the sins of others against us as well as the ways in which the Fall has shaped our biological and social development. Some experiences of sexual desire may come unbidden as a result of sins committed against a person, and while sinful, should be treated with great pastoral care for the person who has been victimized and sinned against. The origins and development of sexual desire remain complex and, in many ways, mysterious. It is possible to conceive of the experience of same-sex attraction as simultaneously a part of the remaining corruption of original sin as well as the misery of living in a fallen world, one of the ways our bodies themselves groan for redemption (Rom. 8:22-23; WCF6.6; WLC17-19). For many of these Christians, the burden of shame is already great and what is especially needed from pastors and mature believers is our preaching and living out of the grace of the gospel that frees us all from guilt and shame.

The sins of others against us can shape us profoundly, including our sexual identity. They are not saying that everyone who is homosexual has been sexually abused, or neglect. They are saying that how such experiences interact with our original corruption is not uniform and therefore mysterious. These can form and distort our sexual identities. Our original corruption also forms and distorts our sexual identities. There is, therefore, no one cause fits all understanding of homosexuality and same-sex desire in all its permutations.

Pastors need to keep this in mind in their preaching as well as in their pastoral counseling. Dealing with these issues touch on issues of great shame. We need to interact in a way that is shaped by the grace of God for sinners in Christ.

Terminology

They move from identity into a discussion of terminology and articulate four principles:

  1. “The language we use to describe reality matters. Our language and terminology should seek to faithfully and helpfully articulate the truths of our doctrine.”
  2. “Language itself is a secondary issue relative to the doctrine it expresses. We can disagree about particular language.”
  3. “We must recognize that the meaning of terms changes over time and that definitions may not be shared across different groups of people.”
  4. “Issues surrounding sexual identity… cannot be reduced to language alone.”

The Report is pushing us to make sure we understand one another instead of relying on the use, or avoidance, of key words and phrases. We should seek to understand how they are using the words or phrases instead of importing our understanding on them, typically with judgment involved. We should remember “how persons express themselves is not finally determinative of their identity.”

Moving into particular terms they apply these principles. “Gay” and “gay Christian” can be used with different meanings, and may be appropriate in some settings. The Report notes that “same-sex attraction” is usually associated with the “ex-gay” movement and puts up unnecessary barriers in evangelism to homosexuals. The Report doesn’t see the term “gay” as neutral, however, and ordinarily cautions against its use. We need to be aware of our audience if/when we use it.

As a result, the term “gay Christian” is open to a number of interpretations. In terms of identity, this would not be clear or precise in expressing our understanding as Reformed people. But a mission-minded person may identify as gay even as they affirm the Lordship of Christ over their sexuality. The risk of syncretism is noted. Here is the wise conclusion:

Given this conclusion, how should we respond to fellow believers in our churches who may use such language? First, we ought not start from the assumption that they are being unfaithful or living in active rebellion to God. Rather, in the context of established relationships, pastors and leaders in the church ought to ask questions and seek to understand each individual’s story. Why do they use that language? Have they thought through the relative benefits and dangers? Noting the range of possible meanings of terms like gay and gay Christian, we would do well to seek understanding before imparting advice. In practical and plain terms, the issue of terminology is more likely a matter for shepherding in wisdom, and not in and of itself grounds for discipline.

This paragraph has the strong echo of John Newton, and others who seek to preserve the unity of the Church. It is hard not to see Keller’s influence here.

The Report moves to the language of orientation. It notes that “insofar as the term orientation carries with it a set of assumptions about the nature of that experience that is unbiblical, then the terminology may require qualification or even rejection in some circumstances.” Use of the term seems to be a capitulation to those who seek to normalize sin.

Singleness, Friendship, and Community

Many who experience same-sex attraction have not found churches to be particularly hospitable places. The words may not be directed at them specifically, but how we preach about it can make a person feel unsafe in revealing their temptations. Sometimes we chase them into a more welcoming community that begins to affirm their sin instead of proclaiming the gospel to them.

Those who stay in our churches can feel incredibly lonely, and this can crush them further. There is a challenge here for us to be clear on sin, but also compassionate to sinners; to be communities that welcome sinners of all kinds. This means not simply welcoming them to sit and watch, but to be active and important participants in our communities. Here we hit a statement many will find controversial.

“Insofar as such persons display the requisite Christian maturity, we do not consider this sin struggle automatically to disqualify someone for leadership in the church.”

This does not sit well with those who think that homosexuality automatically disqualifies one from office. This can take two forms. One that I’ve seen in a number of forums is that if they were truly repentant they wouldn’t experience same sex attraction anymore. As The Report noted earlier, this is distorted and anti-gospel view of repentance. The other form I’ve seen is that to be “a one woman man” rules out one without heterosexual attraction.

This sentence has been brought up as evidence that the PCA is sliding down the slope. This sentence is met with angst on the part of those who want to see pastors and elders (and deacons) who experience same-sex attraction removed from office.

We must note that the persons in question “display the requisite Christian maturity.” They evidence genuine faith as far as we can tell. Due to self-control, they are not controlled by their same-sex attraction but live a faithful, chaste life before the face of God. Leading a gay lifestyle would in fact disqualify one from office. Experiencing same-sex attraction should not. Sin actual, not original, is the proper subject of church discipline. Transgressions, not corruption, is the proper subject of church discipline. This is not 1984 and we are not the “thought police”. To deny the sinfulness of homosexuality would be a proper subject of church discipline since that is false teaching. This is not Minority Report, and there are no precogs letting us know you’d sin (transgress), if you could.

This subject, however, is dynamite that could create not simply discussion but dissension. I don’t want to underestimate that potential. I’ve seen people within and outside of the PCA quote this sentence. If anything is going to prove controversial in The Report, this is it.

So, in light of the fact that people with same-sex attraction who are maturing should contribute to the life of the church we should expect them to cultivate healthy relationships. Unfortunately, some connected with Revoice are proposing “celibate partnerships” in an attempt to affirm the biblical sexual ethic and also experience exclusive, romantic relationships. This is most unwise. You cannot scoop fire into your lap and expect to not be burned. The Report notes these proposed relationships to “be unwise and inconsistent with the depictions of deep same-sex relationships in Scripture, which are instead case in the context of familial or philial relations.” Jonathan and David were like brothers, not lovers. Let us not think it was some Brokeback Mountain kind of thing. The Report notes they make a category mistake: “it seeks to have aspects of romance or marriage without its fullness, instead of rightly rooting this type of deeply caring, same-sex relationship in its proper category of family or friendship.”

We should be providing family to people who are single, and people who are same-sex attracted. We shouldn’t see them as people to be fixed but as people who need to love and be loved in healthy, biblically appropriate ways.

The Report than addresses vows of celibacy. WLC 139 warns against such things. Such vows are entangling and limiting for future options. No one knows what the future holds, and a person may develop sufficient attraction to marry a person of the opposite sex. In this way it pushes back against the “vows of celibacy” some have made and some churches encouraged for membership.

WLC 138 informs us that people who pursue chastity may be considered continent. They certainly have an indefinite, and possibly lifelong call to singleness. This pushes back against the opposite notion that the “cure” for same-sex attraction is heterosexual marriage (or biblical marriage). This seems to not “give proper regard to the rights and dignity of both parties in the marriage relationship.” No one wants to be a beard, and wonder why their spouse displays so little sexual interest in them. I’ve had friends live this, and wish it on no one. As Christians, we have a higher view of marriage than that.

So we find that in terms of pastoral care, this Report continues to pull both sides toward the middle. It offers counter-balance to both sides recognizing that controversy tends to move us farther from truth and toward extremes.

Addendum: Here is a Christopher Yuan lecture on temptation, sanctification & identity.

 

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I’ve written a book on marriage. I can’t seem to get it published, but I wrote one. The last few years have seen some excellent books on marriage published. I currently have a “trinity” of marriage books. My “go to” books are Intimate Allies, When Sinners Say “I Do” and What Did You Expect?. They all focus on different things and do that very well. Recently a church planter asked me what I used. I try to draw from all of these depending on the needs of the couple.

But I may need to employ the new math if I want to keep a trinity of marriage books. You know, the kind where Winston had to say, believably, that 2+2=5 or have a rat chew off his nose (this trick was used in The Salton Sea except it wasn’t a rat, and it wasn’t his nose).

Or I can shift from a “trinity” to a pantheon of marriage books. That is because I am reading Tim and Kathy Keller’s new book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God.  I’m only one and half chapters into it, but what I’ve read thus far is so good that my “trinity” is obliterated.

(more…)

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