How I Think A Christian Should Respond to Jason Collins and Michael Sam

Jason Collins on the cover of a recent Sports Illustrated.

Jason Collins on the cover of a recent Sports Illustrated.

It seems that everywhere you look there is more news about the social progress of homosexuals in this country.  All barriers continue to fall and most recently those barriers came down in two of the major sports leagues in the nation.  Jason Collins, who came out as a gay man when not employed, signed a 10 day contract with the Brooklyn Nets a few weeks ago and has since signed another ten day contract.  Michael Sam, a defensive football player from Missouri, is a presumptive draftee in the upcoming draft.  He’s a good player and will very likely become the first openly gay professional football player.

The majority of the sports media and media in general heralds this news triumphantly, as if we are witnessing history and moving into previously uncharted realms of acceptance and tolerance.  Of course, if a media member were to be critical of this news, they would likely soon be a former media member.  In our mainstream society today, there is hardly a greater sin than to be perceived as anti-homosexual in any way.

This current climate puts Christians like myself in quite a conundrum.  Christians “like myself” are Christians who are very committed toward practicing and teaching what the Bible says about sexuality.  I am very aware that many professing Christians today identify with the “affirming church” and have either dismissed the relevant passages concerning homosexuality or reinterpreted them.  This is not the post to tackle the issue of hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) and sexual ethics, but I have done so previously in a three-part series: part one, part two, part three.

From my perspective, it is not an option to affirm any sexual activity outside of the relationship between a husband and wife as acceptable to God. That necessarily excludes homosexual practice from an acceptable lifestyle for practicing Christians.  The world may label me and others a bigot for that position, but I vehemently deny that charge.  I am not a bigot.  I have no ill will toward anyone, including homosexuals.  I’ve just made a decision long ago to follow the Bible as God’s revealed word and there just isn’t a way I can genuinely hold to that commitment while affirming homosexual practice.

On the one hand, I do not want myself or the church to be viewed as discriminators of anyone nor for us to hold any special disdain for a particular sinful lifestyle.  This is not the attitude and practice of our Savior, “the friend of sinners” (cf. Matt. 11:19, this title was really an accusation by his opponents, but Jesus certainly shared in fellowship with those that society designated as sinners in a special way).  We are, after all, all sinners and everyone is in desperate need of God’s grace.

On the other hand, I will not join in our society’s celebratory march for every homosexual man or woman who declares their sexuality to the world.  I understand that there is some courage needed to “come out” when others may be critical of even hold you in contempt, because of your sexual orientation.  However, I have never seen a faster track to heroism or commendation for courage than telling the world your sexual orientation!  Meanwhile, those who take a stand for what they believe to be godly sexuality, definition of marriage, etc., are treated as narrow-minded bigots and are generally despised.  It takes more courage to say you believe marriage is between a man and a woman or that sex should only be practiced in that context than it takes to say “I’m gay.”  At least, it sure appears that way on a big scale today.

So, no, I’m not going to jump out there and lead the parade for Jason Collins or Michael Sam, because what is ultimately being celebrated is sin.  This would not be the case, if someone admitted to their homosexual orientation, but their intent to live a godly lifestyle. In that case, there really would be something to celebrate, but that’s not happening with Collins or Sam (and almost everyone else who makes the news this way).  We are to celebrate not only their orientation, but their decision to live openly gay (that is to practice homosexuality), and I will not and cannot do that.

However, I have no desire or inclination to crusade against gays in sports or the military or wherever.  They are people just like you and me.  If my team (and I am a big football fan) drafts, Michael Sam, I will not be upset about it.  My team currently employs a star running back that is, best anyone can tell, an atheist.  That doesn’t diminish my desire to see him cross the goal line with the football.

Michael Sam, also on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You are an automatic newsmaker, if you " come out" and are in a high profile position.

Michael Sam, also on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You are an automatic newsmaker, if you ” come out” and are in a high profile position.

I had heard Michael Sam ultimately wants to be known as a good football player instead of a gay player.  I can respect that, but unfortunately the media will not.  I am not against Jason Collins or Michael Sam because they are gay, nor do I consider it Christian to be so. But nor is it Christian to celebrate a lifestyle that the Bible explicitly condemns.  I don’t celebrate my favorite athletes getting yet another woman pregnant for the same reason.  As Paul admonishes us in Rom. 12:9, “Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (ESV).

 

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Friday Survey: Why We Believe

Didn’t get a new regular blog post at this week.  I had a lot going on.  Hope to be back at next week, but for the last day of February here’s Friday Survey.

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Friday Survey: Catch-Up Day

No new surveys this week, but I put all three previous surveys together here, in case you missed them.  I will try to come up with a good “Friday Survey” next week!

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Established Churches and New Churches Need Each Other

Last week I wrote in response to Donald Miller’s controversial post denying church attendance as essential to the Christian faith.  Today, I want to respond to a video by Francis Chan sent to me by a good friend after I had posted a survey about why people struggle with church attendance.

Francis Chan

Francis Chan

First of all, I suppose a more biblical way to speak about church attendance is to speak of the assembly.  There can be little doubt that the early Christians assembled and based on that assembly formed a community in the name of Christ.  If a person insists that this assembling is of little importance, then they really have little need for a large portion of the New Testament, which assumes and even commands the assembly of the saints.

I certainly do not believe a church is its building.  A building is simply a meeting place for these biblical assemblies.  We often (myself included) misspeak when we talk of “going to church.”  A church is not its building, but consists of the people of God.   And so as a good friend recently reminded me, it is inappropriate to speak of “doing church.”  The correct emphasis ought to be on “being the church.”  We are the church wherever we go and whatever we do.  The assemblies of the church provide a way of defining the community and reminding the church of who she is.  Without the assemblies, we would completely forget that we belong to each other or that it is Christ who brings us together (because quite obviously, we wouldn’t be together!).

Chan is a restorationist.  He argues that there is a disconnect between modern-day church experience and biblical church.  He claims these four emphases emerge when you just look to the New Testament on how to be church:  1.  An intense family-like love for each other.  2.  A compelling and urgent sense of mission.  3.  Regular gatherings (assemblies) for communion, fellowship, and interaction with God’s word (he later adds prayer).  4.  Training/Equipping of the saints for ministry.

These four emphases are demonstrably biblical.  Maybe there is something we can add to this list, but you would be hard-pressed to prove that Chan is wrong on any of these four aspects of the biblical church.  Just Acts 2:42-47 alone may prove three out of the four!  Also, Eph. 4:1-16 is a very relevant passage in this regard.

Chan further argues that it is a rare experience to find a church that is functioning with these four emphases at the forefront.  Modern-day churches are weighed down with salaries and buildings.  So, he proposes (actually practices) four solutions, which assume starting a new church rather than reforming an old one (an important point I will come back to momentarily):  1.  Meet in homes with minimal or no salary commitments.  2.  Meet together for a year at the most and then multiply.  3.  Read through the Bible in a year to emphasize the message over the messenger.  4.  Start training leaders with good theology in anticipation of multiplication.  If you watch the video, I hope you will find this a fair summary of Chan’s thoughts.  house church

Again, everything Chan proposes is thoroughly biblical.  It’s inspirational really.  It is the kind of vision that I could easily see myself jumping into with like-minded people.  And in light of such a vision, it is easy to become dissatisfied with the more established/traditional churches.

Notice, however, that Chan takes the quickest route to accomplishing this vision, which is to start a new church.  This work is much more difficult, if it involves reforming an existing church, though I know David Platt has had some success in this regard.  I do think established churches can and should refocus their vision, but they will likely never be able to shed their past history and established traditions completely enough to pull it off. What we really need is more people who think like Chan to start new churches, but I would propose in partnership with existing churches.

Existing churches may not be as adaptable, but they can raise their level of vision enough to help others to succeed in starting the next generation of churches.  Established churches  often suffer with myopia.  Partnering with and devoting resources to new church plants will help ensure a healthier church for future generations.

However, is it a good thing if every church suddenly abandoned its building and dissolved into house churches?  This will certainly never happen, but would it be healthy for the kingdom, even if it could?  Should established churches who refuse to change be charged as slaves to their traditions and propping up an unbiblical institution?  

Do we still need church buildings?

Do we still need church buildings?

It is important to remember that such churches were once new as well and that many of these churches have helped further the kingdom for generations.  They also have the advantage of visibility (due to their building) and credibility (due to their long tenure in the kingdom).  And just practically speaking, they have a lot of resources to serve the kingdom both here and abroad and to partner with trailblazers like Chan.  Millions of faithful people are in these churches and it is important to remember that though imperfect, they are part of His Church!

Too often new church plants regard established churches as hopeless slaves to past traditions and established churches view new churches as irreverent flash-in-the-pans. Neither is true or, at least, not necessarily so.  Old churches need to partner with new efforts to raise their kingdom vision and new churches need old churches to remind them of where they came from and that even they owe their existence to the faithful generations who came before them.

Chan is right, completely right.  I hope more people do exactly as he suggests.  I just hope that when they do, they will not forget the many brothers and sisters they have in more established churches.  And I hope that these established churches will avail themselves of the opportunity to refocus their own mission, while being a blessing to others who set forth on a new mission for Jesus.

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Friday Survey: Your View of the Bible

bible-SunlightAs I  mentioned in previous posts, I sometimes use these surveys in future blog posts.  You can link to previous polls here and here.  This poll is about your beliefs about the Bible.  Happy Valentines Day!

 

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The Church and Your Personal Community

Will the next generation of Christians still believe these type of assemblies are essential to the Christian faith?  Photo from Wikipedia.

Will the next generation of Christians still believe these type of assemblies are essential to the Christian faith? Photo from Wikipedia.

A few weeks ago, I asked those who identify as Christians and struggle with church attendance what was the cause of that struggle in this poll (you can still vote).

Part of the reason I had to ask the question is because I can no longer really relate to the struggle.  I grew up in a situation where we literally feared that if missing a service for another activity happened to coincide with our death or the return of Christ we might spend eternity in hell!  I did go through a phase later–when I thought I was going to hell anyway–where church attendance was not a given.  But now in this last decade of my life, I have been a preacher, and though I hope true motives are in play, I am paid to show up to church services!

Currently only twenty-five people have voted in the poll, but one thing really stood out.  32% of responders (eight people), said that either their current church experience was not engaging enough or that church attendance was not important to the Christian walk.  I would love to get more responders to see if those numbers hold, but I suspect they are very true.

Don Miller

Donald “Don” Miller

A week ago or so, author/blogger Donald Miller found himself in a controversy after admitting he rarely attended church, though he is apparently a well-known evangelical.  You can read his original post here.  After the storm of passionate comments, Miller responded with another post.

I thought his second post was more helpful, because he was pushed to clarify and defend his views on why church attendance is really non-essential for him, even though he considers himself a Christian.  Here are a couple of quotes from Miller and I’ve added a few thoughts in italics below.

“Millions of people who do not attend church have rich, meaningful communities that they created or have joined. You could create your own community out of your home in a matter of months.”

I’m sure that Miller is correct, but the critical question for the Christian, in this discussion, is whether or not it is important to Jesus for us to belong to a church.  If so, is what Miller describes as your own created community a viable substitute for traditional church?  

“I choose kind ones, I don’t care what they believe. This is part of why I feel like my community is so healthy.”

Even if you take a very ecumenical view of the church (i.e. not overly focused on denominational doctrines), you would have to concede the church of the Bible is formed around certain beliefs.  In a sense, Miller is just saying he has swapped community for church.  While these ideas are not mutually exclusive, it is a mistake to equate them.  There are many communities that are not the church, though every church should be a community.  Building a community around kind people is pleasant, but it is not the same as experiencing community formed by the name of Christ.  

“Do people really believe there’s no spiritual life, no walk with Jesus, no community and no love outside a Sunday morning worship service?”

I don’t know what people might believe, but I would think that most thoughtful Christians do understand that Sunday morning worship is only an aspect of a spiritual life and only one way to enjoy community.  However, Miller’s rhetorical question misses the point.  This issue should not be framed as to whether Christians can be spiritual and enjoy authentic community outside Sunday morning church service OR can only experience such things in the context of church service.  Why can it be both/and?  Miller conceded it is both/and for many, but not for him.  But again what Jesus expects of us is more important than what we find personally beneficial.  

Additional Thoughts

In Miller’s two posts, he sometimes writes about the church in rich theological language.  In one place he calls it the “bride of Christ.”  He describes the church as one body and consisting of all those that belong to Christ and hopes he is considered part of it.  That’s all very compelling biblical language.  And I believe that Miller and many like him are very sincere in their frustrations with traditional church services and feel the need spread their wings and fly outside of the church walls.  However, I just don’t think this view of the church/community holds up under biblical scrutiny.  

The church of the Bible is not some nebulous community that we form ourselves based on a quality we like (in Miller’s case–kindness).  The church is a people called out (not really talking about the etymology of ekklesia here) to believe in and submit to the Lordship of Jesus.  It is not defined by us and its mission does not come from us.  

The church assembles to acknowledge her (if I may now change the pronoun) Lord, to commune with her Groom through the Lord’s Supper, to encourage one another in pursuit of holy lives.  The church meets on Sunday, because Jesus rose on that day, and it became known as the Lord’s Day (cf. Rev. 1:10).  Scripture and the testimony of history bear this out.  We encourage one another toward the Great Commission.  We encourage the weak, even when we don’t get a lot out of service.

I want to be empathetic to those who declare themselves Christians, but struggle to attend services.  I really do and I want to understand.  We need to look at some other models of “doing church”, which I will discuss in my next post.  Click here for a preview of what I hope to discuss next week.

But as I wrap up now, in my view, it is simply not an option to be a Christian and to opt out of church in favor of your self-styled community (cf. Heb. 10:25).  I could say a lot more and probably need to from the biblical witness, but as this post is now over a thousand words, let me stop for the day.  Feel free to share your thoughts or questions.

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Friday Survey: Why Do You Pray?

Realistically, I better keep to trying to blog once a week.  However, I’ve decided to start Friday Surveys as a way hear back from you and incorporate some of the feedback in future blog posts.  For example, last week I promoted a survey about church attendance and next week I will use those results in a blog post on what is the church, what should it be, etc.  prayer-on-my-knees42

Today’s survey focuses on prayer.  Your “vote” is anonymous but helpful to me in understanding how people feel about important issues relating to Christianity.

 

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