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One Sunday I noticed something strange. Even though we were usually the first car at church, my dad always chose to park in the worst spot. His explanation has stuck with me to this day. 

December 5, 2016 3 1 comments
Blog

In a culture of overstuffed garages and storage units, it’s hard to talk about letting go. It’s hard to talk about dying. It’s difficult to teach subtraction and it’s difficult to learn, but we must. 

November 30, 2016 6 6 comments
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Simply put: Jesus walked. He never flew in a plane or drove a car. Today we don’t "walk" our discipleship. We view the journey to Jerusalem as a commute. Would slowing our pace deepen relationships? What might we notice?

November 22, 2016 4 1 comments
Resource, Lesson or Study

How do we engage our congregations in Advent? How do we get people reading their Bibles? In response to these questions, my church (Oakdale Park CRC) created this Advent community reading plan. 

November 22, 2016 2 0 comments
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Disciple-making isn't easy or comfortable. And that's a good thing. When it isn't comfortable, it breaks us. When it isn't easy, it makes us rely more on the strength of Jesus and power of the Holy Spirit. 

November 22, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

Looking for free devotional resources to challenge your mind and inspire your heart? Check out these devotions by CRC authors in the new CRC Digital Library

November 21, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

Why might gratitude be the best measure of our spirituality? Perhaps because it demonstrates that we have been paying attention to the gifts we've received. So, what are you thankful for? 

November 16, 2016 2 1 comments
Blog

It's easy to see my 2-year-old granddaughter learning things about church each week, but adults are developing as well. Every week I’m shaping my faith language through the things I see and hear. 

November 16, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

We are living in a cultural season in which a kind of “stand alone authenticity” is celebrated and encouraged everywhere. It’s a false idol that needs to be discerned, named and rejected.

November 16, 2016 3 2 comments
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Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It's time for you to know that whatever you are going in through is simply under the builders mind. He is building His own Church (Mathew 16:17-18). When you are built in Him, nothing shall take you away. As much as others may judge you according to...

November 15, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

Check out this treasure trove of faith forming, intergenerational Advent tools and ideas for how to use them.

November 11, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

As I hear my friends reflect on the election’s outcome, I am hearing a loss for words about how to talk about this with children. It is in response to what I am hearing that I offer this devotion for parents.

November 10, 2016 5 1 comments
Blog

In my 62 years as a member of the CRC, I’ve noticed that we tend to describe people either in terms of the opinions they hold or the stories they share. And these two are very different.

November 8, 2016 4 2 comments
Blog

Rather than advising flashier technology or younger staff, Growing Young helps churches address some cross-cultural barriers that will produce deeper, more lasting change in their engagement with today’s youth. 

November 8, 2016 0 0 comments
Blog

When I asked my class of nearly 30 students to pick their #1 line from the Confessions of Augustine, there was very little duplication. This list of their 'top lines' may encourage you to revisit this classic spiritual autobiography.

November 7, 2016 2 3 comments
Blog

How might remembering that each person has a dream—some broken, some whole—change the ways we care for each other on the street corner, at the grocery store, in our congregations and in our neighborhood? 

November 3, 2016 3 3 comments
Blog

The artist Prince will be remembered for a long time. He had an impressive property, a studio, and countless records to spark people’s memory of him. But what about me? Will anyone remember me?

November 2, 2016 3 1 comments
Blog

When a congregation repents well, its culture will lean towards humility, teachability, hospitality, and a healthy vulnerability that shares how the Lord’s power is made perfect in its weakness.

October 28, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

We’ve all heard someone say, “My faith story is boring. I grew up in a Christian family. I went to Christian schools...And that’s about all there is to tell.” Well, let’s get one thing straight right now: There is no such thing as a “boring” faith story.

October 27, 2016 2 0 comments
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When is the last time you and other leaders in your church formally reflected on this question, “Where does Jesus live in our church?”

October 25, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

I can remember even now the sense of awe and gratefulness I would feel as I, a child, watched from a dark corner while the adults in my life made themselves vulnerable before God and each other.

October 24, 2016 0 3 comments
Resource, Conference or Event

Westwood CRC is excited to host the "4 Chair Discipling Seminar" in Kalamazoo on November 5. The training helps a church with an overall strategy for building a ministry that multiplies disciples. 

October 20, 2016 0 0 comments
Resource

The toolkit is divided into sections on becoming a storytelling church, shaping our stories, and sharing our stories in many different facets of your church’s ministry.

October 14, 2016 1 0 comments
Blog

At this fork, I find myself praying prayers like these: “Lord, the news cycle has helped me to see the great pit of fear that lives inside me. I feel paralyzed and confused. Pierce my fear with the power of your Spirit...”

October 12, 2016 6 5 comments
Resource

To celebrate 20 years of women's ordination in the CRC, First CRC of Toronto has prepared a resource package for churches in Classis Toronto and across the CRC to commemorate this milestone.

October 10, 2016 0 0 comments

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The sudden death of Prince hit me and several of my family & friends hard. I had to really wrestle with why, and what endures when greatness is fleeting.

https://mbentley.org/2016/04/22/the-purple-reign-ends-goodbye-prince/

I absolutely love this post. It almost brought tears to my eyes as our interactions would look so different if we remembered the hopes and dreams that each and every person around us has. Eternal perspective! 

Beautiful, Angela! I would really love to see that video and include it in Faith Formation Ministries' Faith Storytelling toolkit so other churches can see it too. If you're willing, send it to me at sswartzentruber@crcna.org!

I love this, Angela! What awesome stories probably came out of the question you asked. Thanks for sharing. 

Thank you, Syd!
  Fear - the pit of fear that lives inside of me.  It casts out love, or tries to.  And fuels my racial junk.  You help express how deeply rooted my race junk is.  and how important is the repentance that's on the way to love and joy and peace.

We are new to intnetional faith story telling. Because of what I read on the Network, this summer we video taped 10 responses to the question "Tell me about a meaningful Bible passage and why it is meaningful?" We included youth to seniors and different nationalities. We showed the first one last Sunday and I think it went well. It was very powerful to hear this story from this particular person. I hope it is the beginning of us being much more vulnerable with each other as we share our faith.

"I'm sure glad we have a God who is greater than either of these..."

Amen, Helen! Thanks for your insightful comment. 

This is a year when the churches are being tested. Those in authority over us or those planning to be have not acted much like we would prefer. The language and accusations have brought us down low. Those running for the highest office of the land have been exposed as being sinners just as we are. However, comments made by the viewers would seem to be made by those who don't sin. I keep thinking of David who had an affair with Bathsheba. To cover his misdeeds, he put Uriah in the front lines of the battle after two other attempts failed. Yet David was a man of God. If it's Trumpland that one wants to criticize or Clinton Foundation and its implications, I'm sure glad we have a God who is greater than either of these. Whatever happens, He will bring it to pass. If it is to punish us for our rebelliousness or bring us back to Him through a lifestyle we haven't experienced for many decades, His wisdom is far greater than ours. I will do my civic duty and vote for the one I feel is more god-fearing and will lead in an honest and integral manner.

What about the challenge the Clinton campaign lays before the church?

 

Thanks for leading with transparency and humility like this, Syd! Really appreciate it. 

 

Thanks, Joshua, for the post.  In the past, I felt a sense of guilt at my inability to practice the presence of God for more than a few minutes.  A spiritual guide, farther along in the journey of faith than I was, said, "Think of God the same way that you think of a loving parent with a small child.  The parent finds great joy when the child snuggles up and just quietly sits on the parent's lap.  However, a parent's joy and love aren't diminished in any when the child then runs off to play.  Giving myself the same grace that God extends to me has kept me from feeling guilty and, over time, my ability to be present and just "sit in the Father's lap" has greatly increased. 

posted in: Entering Solitude

Beautifully said, Syd, and worthy of reflection and action!  Thanks for these words of wisdom and challenge.

Jeanne Kallemeyn

Outstanding Joshua, keep working at it!!!

It was a struggle for me as well, we often live our lives at 100 mph. Trying to put the brakes on long enough to for anything other then ourselves can be seem unnecessary and impossible. I for one have to make my time in the a.m., but my wife and I have a separate time we set aside for prayer together. My personal time is around 3:30 a.m. or as soon as I have my first cup of coffee down. I'm not sure exactly how the progress came about but I started by just reading a verse each morning I am now up to about 30 minutes of prayer. I found that the more I prayed the more I found to pray for. I can only say I believe that to be the Holy Spirit growing in me. Either way I truly enjoyed you post, thank you.   

posted in: Entering Solitude

I have come to see and understand that, along with the truth that Jesus died in my place, he also lived in my place - lived that wholly faithful and sinless life that I cannot.  Still, to know Jesus and to listen to Him, to 'live in his neighborhood' as someone put it, I can't miss the push to imitate Him, to do what he says and what himself does.  I am coming to see that the closer I am to Jesus, realizing what it took for Him to deal with sin, the more I can come to see what sin is, especially in my own life.  Separating law and gospel has always led to problems, but seeing them united in Christ seems like the best way forward, at least to me.

Nice article Brianna.  It has a nice balance to a concern that many in the Reformed tradition seem to feel.  I think that concern has something to do with the legalistic perspective of the Reformed faith.  Reformed people have always placed a certain emphasis on law.  I’m recalling, in my mind, Calvin’s three uses of the law.  The using of the law as a rule of gratitude seems to easily backfire and result in guilt, whether warranted or not.

When Reformed Christians speak of the law as a rule of gratitude for Christian living, it easily disintegrates into a measuring stick for Christian living.  And when you don’t measure up, the result is guilt and guilty feelings.

The Pharisees, of course, were driven by law.  They would use the law as a measuring stick to guilt their fellow Jews and Jesus into obedience.  Jesus didn’t buy into such a mentality.  Jesus seemed to dismiss much of the Jewish cherished laws.  Instead Jesus’ emphasis was on compassion.  Have you ever noticed how often Jesus was characterized as having compassion on and for people, whether on the crowds, individuals, sinners, or even good people?  And much of Jesus’ teachings focused on compassion.  Have you ever noticed how often the Pharisees were characterized as having compassion?  Not once.  So as to Jesus’ teaching and example, law and compassion seem to be antithetical to each other. 
  
Paul, at times encouraged joyful giving, akin to having compassion.  As Reformed Christians we, instead, follow a measuring stick of grateful giving (legalistic), which gets spelled out as giving a measurable tithe, or an individual quota, a classical quota, and a denominational quota.  It all gets broken down into a legalistic amount that Reformed Christians should be giving, whether as churches or as individuals.  And when not meeting that measure, the result is guilty feelings and guilt.  The law, even as a rule (measuring stick) of gratitude (which the Pharisees would also advocate) becomes a measure of our failure more often than a measure of our success.

Law or legalism most often has a negative effect of bringing about guilt and feelings of doubt.  Even the use of the law as a rule of gratitude is not so different than what the Pharisees practiced.  I’m quite certain they would have seen law keeping as rule of gratitude for the deliverance they felt from God, too.  But they put a heavy emphasis on human responsibility to be law keepers, even as Reformed people have done.  And our failure always seems to bring about guilt.  That is another emphasis of the Reformed faith, human failure.

Christ wants our lives to be characterized by compassion, whether it is forgiving others or doing good for others, but not as legalistic law keepers.  Perhaps the secret to a joyous Christian experience is to get our eyes off the law and instead live compassionate lives of love for God and neighbor.

 

Thanks Syd! I like this approach a lot.  All pastors are not capable of doing this.  You are a teacher/preacher and that makes a difference.  Maybe seminarians need to be taught how to do this, and not only with the young.  Many older members could use their gifts in this way also.

Thanks for sharing this, Staci. It's wonderful reminder of what it means to walk (or run!) alongside someone.

I love these ideas, Karen. Thanks for sharing them! I was just thinking last night about how to encourage my kids as one of them is going back to school next week. I was thinking of having a "prayer meal" where everyone has the opportunity to talk about what makes them anxious or sad about going back to school, and what makes them happy or excited about going back to school during dinner, and afterward we take some time to pray about them for each other.

Thanks for writing this! There is so much wisdom in your advice to come along side people who are facing circumstances that can shake even the strongest faith to the core. Love this question: "Are our friendships, our churches, our Christian communities, safe spaces for people to ask the hard questions without being thrown easy answers, or worse, being ridiculed and dismissed?"

Thank you for this encouraging piece!  I'm forwarding to several people right away!

Unfortunate that English doesn't differentiate between Faith, a collection of dogma and faith, "belief" in anything."

Thanks for sharing this, Laura. I love your ideas for other ways a congregation might also use this blessing.

A remarkable and encouraging piece of writing. I've already shared it with several people. Thank you. ~Stanley

Thanks for your feedback, Mark.  I hear what  you are saying and I will have to give this some thought.  Words matter.   I do resonate with the idea of opportunity for the whole congregation to grow in its understanding of what it means to be community.

Thanks Leslie! Great thoughts. Here's one for you: I'm beginning to wonder if "accommodations" is even the right word. (And it's one that I use often, so this is something I'm wondering about and I invite you to wonder with me.) "Accommodations" implies that you, whoever the "you" is, are special, and so we'll do something special for you to be a part of us. We don't call stairs an "accommodation", even though there are some people in church who could move from one floor to another using nothing but a rope. Nor do we consider electric lights or toilets or microphones and speakers to be "accommodations". Here's another book to consider, Turning Barriers into Bridges: The Inclusive Use of Information and Communication Technology for Churches in America, Britain, and Canada by John Jay Frank.  In that book he argues that what some of us think of as "accommodations" are actually just ways for people to participate. So in the case of the man you describe, the unplugged mic is not an accommodation for the man who would use it sometimes, it's an opportunity for the whole congregation to be more the community that God calls your congregation to be. So I wonder, if we don't use the word "accommodation", what would be a better word? 

Bekki you don't know me but you DO know well some of my family members Doug, Leslie, Kiel, Liz and Jack. Jeri is my husband Bill's oldest sister. You, my dear sister in Christ, are a blessing to so very many. I forwarded this write-up to Doug and family, as I'm not sure they get the weekly CRC Network. THANK YOU for your beautiful testimony, your sunshine nature, and for being such a blessing to the Hoek family, in particular over the past six months through their loss of Jeri. You have indeed been "baptized in sunshine"!! :) 

Love this article!!  Thank you Bekki for sharing with us.

This is an amazing testimony! I am truly left without words.

Thank you, Bekki and Staci, for sharing this very special and purposeful story! 

Thank you for your question. I emailed the rest of our Faith Formation Ministries team to compile some resources for you and below is the list we came up with:

We hope these are helpful! Please don't hesitate to reach out to us with any more questions. 

Thanks Roger for this helpful comment.  Placing things that encourage faith based conversation is more what I had in mind.  Inspire, not require.  

Do you have any suggestions for good books or resources about setting up mentoring programs and relationships? I believe in mentoring. I think it is something we need to be more intentional in many ways in the church, but I'm at a loss about how to start or set up opportunities for such relationships. Any advice would be welcome.

Thanks, Joshua, for the advice.  But to simply ask God for the ancient paths, to which he gives Jesus as the answer, is rather simplistic.  Thomas Jefferson might have agreed with your answer and quoted Matthew 11:28-30 as well.  He was a strong believer in the teachings of Jesus Christ but had little use for the rest of the Bible.  He called himself a Christian deist.  I wonder if he qualified for having found the ancient paths?  

Then there are Reformed Christians, a good many (maybe, the majority) who have been raised in the Reformed faith all their lives. They assume that the ancient paths is what they have been taught all their lives and would never think to question those cherished and ancient teachings.  There are also the Baptists who generally tend to be Arminian when it comes to salvation, but are called apostates or heretics by the early Reformers.  There are also Pentecostals who emphasize the personal experience of salvation along with the experience of miraculous gifts.  And there are hundreds of other denominations, each having their own emphasis as to the Christian life.  Each group seems to have their own way and perspective on interpreting the Bible and understanding the ancient paths.

So to say, when the burden of trying to figure things out on our own becomes too great, simply look to Jesus and we will be given rest for our souls, this sound pretty simplistic.  But I guess Thomas Jefferson would say the same, and he was a person deserving of great respect.  So who am I to argue?  Thanks Joshua.

Thanks Laura, for an interesting concept: a more focused conversation time after the worship service while having coffee.  I remember, years ago (probably 40 or so) the ministers (two of them) who carried considerable authority in the church, strongly suggested that the members forgo the frivolous conversations he and his fellow minister were hearing during coffee time after church. Instead the members should focus their conversations on more spiritual and uplifting matters, maybe even including reflections of the sermon.  Out, were the conversations about the movie we saw the previous week, the vacation that friends had taken, the new car we were looking to buy, etc. etc.  We were new at this church and still considering whether we wanted to join.  After a few weeks of focused conversation and feeling uncomfortable with it, we stopped attending that particular church.  Such focused conversation may be good for some, but definitely not all.

I plan to walk the Camino de Santiago in September. Does that count?

 

https://m.facebook.com/BuenCamino2016/

Thank you for the post! I appreciate your reframing the case of Angelina Grimke.

Thank you for your article Syd. 

Good question. Follow-up question: If a sin, misdemeanor or felony?

The Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches classify (in my words) as misdemeanors or felonies. Some "dispensational" denominations teach that "wrong thinking" (my words) is as serious as premeditated murder to God. What is the CRCNA position?

The Devil is always in the details. Most Christians, most people mostly worry about pleasing God and the next life in terms of going to Heaven or going to Hell. If neither God's election to salvation nor "believing in Jesus" provides a final answer then logically our eternal destination is determined by God's evaluation one's good and bad "works." Or God flips a coin. 

Maybe for the "elect," God grades on a curve and we should reconsider the concept of Purgatory. 

 

 

Is homosexual activity a sin? A simple yes or no. Is premarital sex a sin? Where does Satan fit in this discussion?

"We need a power greater than ourselves - and greater than Satan - to free us and heal us. So we must admit our helplessness and entrust our lives to Jesus." Today May- June 2006.

 

Well said, Andrew.  Glad the hermeneutical questions will be picked up by the new study committee.  God's strength and wisdom to them.

 

Thank you for this article, Syd.  Your example of the mother and her daughter are so similar to a friend of mine and her struggle with her own sexuality, but instead of psychiatric hospitals it was extreme weight gain and a slide into depression with a continuing commitment to live as "post-gay."

This article is confusing from the outset when it says, “I’m not advocating for a particular position…[but] a particular posture.”  The advocacy of uncertainty is a position.  Kindness, patience, compassion…these are postures one can take with regard to any ‘Issue Y’ regardless of one’s position on ‘Issue Y.’  Advocating uncertainty with regard to any ‘Issue Y’ is itself a position on ‘Issue Y’ …namely, that claims to certainty are (currently?) less warranted than uncertainty.

 

I want to echo those who have noted how little publicity uncertainty gets in scripture.  Uncertainty with regard to things that have not been revealed? Absolutely.  Uncertainty with regard to the meaning of things that have been revealed?  To put it mildly, I’d argue that the scope of scripture pushes in the opposite direction.  The Luke 24 example itself bears this out.  The disciples on the road to Emmaus were not commended but scolded for their uncertainty.  “Foolish” and “slow of heart” are not compliments.  Uncertainty simply doesn’t get the Biblical endorsement many assume.  Humility--yes; uncertainty--no … and we as a church must forever insist that the two are not synonymous. 

 

I also find it odd to advocate for a season of uncertainty for an entire denomination.  I can see how individuals may need to journey through a season of uncertainty on this question (and many others) … that is until they’ve had an opportunity to do some more praying / studying / listening / reflecting.  But the suggestion that a denomination made up of nearly 250,000 people all need to go through this season at the same time seems to overlook the fact that many of us have prayed / studied / listened / reflected on this matter for some time, have weighed the various perspectives and voices, and as a result have settled on informed convictions.  To be told that we should now go back to uncertainty seems to imply that all previous seasons of discernment were insufficient for one reason or another. 

 

Finally, I have a few questions about this season of holy uncertainty: How long is this season supposed to last?  Or will it simply be suggested in perpetuity that we’ve still been too hasty and that we should enter into another season of uncertainty?  Is this uncertainty open to the possibility that we’ve understood scripture correctly all along?  If so, when and how is anyone allowed to conclude that?  If not, same question.  Why advocate for a season of uncertainty only on this one issue and not dozens and dozens of other moral and doctrinal matters (including those outlined in our confessions)?

Roger,

In Philemon, Paul says this: "although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love" (v.8). This is a key to understanding what Paul is doing. It is crystal clear that Paul is indirectly telling Philemon to free Onesimus, but he wants Philemon to make the decision on the basis of the New Testament ethic of love. Paul, like Jesus, rarely talks about institutional sin, or sinful institutions. Instead they preach the ethic (love) that undermines injustice wherever it is. To say Paul doesn't condemn slavery per se, misses the point of what Paul's strategy is in dealing with Philemon, and IMHO, all Christians who owned slaves. Paul had the authority to order Philemon to free Onesimus (he says as much in v.8), yet he decides to trust Philemon to do the right thing, once Paul explains the application of the law of love as it pertains to Onesimus. 

But the fact that he doesn't condemn slavery, but does condemn homosexual behavior, makes a stronger case for not supporting it in the Church! Apparently Paul saw a clearer antithesis between homosexual behavior and Christianity than slavery and Christianity. Don't ask me to explain why (I don't know), but it certainly seems to me, that's what's going on here. 

Your thoughts as to what Paul is "really saying" or "really rejecting," or that the OT restrictions on homosexual practice are all related to pagan practices are simply unfounded (regardless of attempts to make such a case). Further, there are no positive examples of acceptable homosexual relationships, nor suggestions for exceptions to a general rule, nor even hints of such in either the NT or the OT. Zero. Nada. Zip. (Again, despite flawed attempts to suggest otherwise.) 

I am not suggesting that those with same sex attraction should be excluded from the church. Neither is the CRC. What we are saying is that there is no Biblical support for accepting same-sex marriage (that presumably includes sexual acts between people of the same sex). 

An uncertainty hermeneutic on this topic is, IMHO, beyond a slippery slope, it has already fallen off the cliff. At some point we have to say that there are some things we actually are certain about, and this, if we are honest, is clearly one of them. There are things Scripture is unclear about: what is required in a marriage ceremony is one, church polity is another, even infant baptism has good arguments for and against. Either Scripture simply fails to address a question we are asking, or there seems to be some ambiguity between Scriptures as to what should take precedent. But not as regards this topic: one position is presented and no other positions are considered in Scripture itself.

BTW, we're not talking about salvation here. We're talking ethics and morality. I have no doubt that some who are in a same sex relationship or marriage will be saved, as will those who regularly gossip, are greedy, lie, cheat and steal. No one is saying that same sex relationships are somehow an unforgivable sin. We're just saying it's sin. Followers of Jesus will want to stop sinning and the Holy Spirit will work in us to convict us of sin and to empower us to live holy lives. God is immensely gracious. Of that we can be completely certain. ;-)

 

Great post. Winsome, humble and encouraging. Please keep writing.

I have listened to this debate on the homosexual issue, as it affects our denomination, for some time now.  I have always taken the more homosexual friendly view, the view that says, let’s remove the barriers between us and them.  If we can find a way to be inclusive of gays, how much more Christ-like we will be, tearing down the walls that divide us.  But there seems to be this insurmountable barrier that prevents us from holding hands with homosexuals, from allowing them to be full members of the church along with us.  Of course, those who applaud our denomination’s recent decision will quickly point out, it is Scripture that prevents us from holding hands.  I understand that.  There is a long history of agreement by most Christians with Paul’s characterization of homosexuals as the very enemies of God.  This is God’s characterization of every practicing homosexual through the ages, that by their lifestyle they are somehow expressing their hatred of God, even as Paul plainly states.  Plainly their homosexual lifestyle is an aberration of God’s intended purpose and place for sex.  Sex should never take place outside of the marital state between one man and one woman.  

But I’m thinking there is more to this aversion by Christians of homosexuals than meets the eye.  In my opinion, it is not too difficult to make a Biblical case for saying that the Bible’s aversion of homosexuals is not against homosexuals across the board, but of those who practice homosexual sex in the context of heathenism, of cultic religious worship, of those who worship manmade gods rather than the God of heaven and earth.  But those who want to put all homosexuals into the same basket will quickly and strongly deny such a position, calling it unbiblical.

And yet on many other issues, such as women in office, we bypass the obvious Biblical injunction that women are not to have authority over men in order to grab hold of a much less prominent Biblical rationale that allows women to be office bearers in the church.  We have done this on many issues that have faced the church in the past and recent history, but not so when it has come to homosexuality.  I think there is a deeper psychological barrier that has allowed, even Christians in the past to persecute homosexuals, and even today allows Christians to bar gays from full church membership.  The so called Biblical injunction against gays is only the veneer that hides the Christian’s real and deep seated reason for rejecting gays as full members of the church.  Maybe that reason is a deep seated fear of what others will think of me (a heterosexual) for loving someone so different from myself (even at the core level of sexuality and sexual orientation).  A long history of Bible interpretation has said God condemns such people as unacceptable and therefore so should I.

I wonder why we, as Christians, can so easily be dismissive of other areas in regard to sexually acceptable behavior, and not be dismissive of homosexual behavior.  We treat masturbation (self sexual manipulation) as though it is a natural function of growing up.  And in fact many psychologists, even Christian psychologists, will claim that it is a healthy behavior that contributes to a mature and balanced adulthood.  Some Christians would say that masturbation, for the widow or widower, who doesn’t want to remarry, it is a healthy form of sexual release.  And yet masturbation clearly falls outside the boundaries of Biblical acceptability (sexual relations are to take place only between a married man and woman).  Homosexual activity is no more harmful than heterosexual activity or self sexual gratification.  So why doesn’t our denomination form a study committee to condemn and exclude those who masturbate?  It is said that in the U.S. over half the adult male population and a quarter of the female population masturbate on a regular basis.  And with the issue of pornography in the hands of church members, you can be sure that masturbation is a common phenomenon among church members, even among pastors, so I have heard.   Why is it so easy to dismiss one sexual deviant behavior and not the other?  Why is there no denominational study committee and action taken to exclude masturbators from membership?   I would imagine it is because such behavior is not so totally foreign to most of us, unlike the behavior of homosexuals.  We can strongly condemn homosexual behavior, but only mildly condemn masturbation which is not worth a separate report and action, even though such behavior (thought to be sinful by many Christians) is so common, even in the church.  The rationale seems to be, those who masturbate may not be so different from the rest of us, but homosexual behavior is definitely different, and therefore should be judged.

It may sound repulsive to some to hold hands with a homosexual but it is time to put aside our repulsions and find it in our hearts to accept and love those who are different from ourselves.  It is time to look for Biblical grounds to include homosexuals who may be different from ourselves, rather than looking for grounds to exclude.  But we may have to wait for some time before such thinking can take root in our denomination, seeing as our churches have now made a binding 1decision that doesn’t allow an openness toward homosexuals.  The “uncertainty” now may be, how long can we hold together with the internal strife that many feel.

Thanks, Syd, for your thoughts leading to such a stimulating discussion!  And thanks, everyone for contributing.  I appreciated the tone of the conversation as we wrestle with this question.  Happy Canada Day.

Thanks Richard for your input.  On a website like this we sure get a variety of opinions, and it’s good to hear your opinion, as well.  But I think your reasoning falls short in a couple of places.  One, your comment that has Paul saying slavery is wrong because Paul considers Onesimus as a brother and should be treated graciously rather than as he deserves as a runaway slave doesn’t follow sound reasoning. Paul doesn’t ask Philemon to release Onesimus from his slavery or suggest that slavery is wrong, but only to treat him beyond that which he deserves because he has been so useful to Paul.  Paul doesn’t say that all slaves should be treated as brothers, only Onesimus.  Nor is Paul condemning the institution of slavery.  Paul never criticizes the institution of slavery in the Old Testament as practiced by the Jews, or the practice within his own Roman culture.  In fact, Paul likens Christianity to the institution of slavery, only a willing slavery, where the slave lives in willing obedience to his owner and master.  If Paul considered slavery as wrong, I doubt that he would use the practice of slavery as a model for the Christian’s life.  I think you are pushing way beyond what Paul had in his mind.  You are imposing your own convictions on him.

As to your thoughts about the Bible’s message in regard to homosexuality and its clarity, I think you may be on a slippery slope.  Although there appears to be a clear condemnation of homosexuality in Romans 1, as well as in other passages (Old Testament), what is not clear at all is if Paul is talking about homosexuality across the board.  It’s obvious he is talking about those who suppress and deny God’s divine nature.  He is talking about those who refuse to honor and give thanks to him. He is talking about those who worship man-made idols instead of the God of heaven and earth.  Even when the Old Testament criticizes homosexuals it is those who demonstrate a perverted practice from within a heathen religious culture.  Paul or the Old Testament isn’t condemning homosexuals who claim a commitment to Christ and to the faith of the Bible and who want to be useful to God in his present kingdom.  So it seems likely that Paul isn’t criticizing all homosexuals, but only those who pervert human sexuality.  Paul could have as easily condemned those who pervert heterosexual sexual relationships.  And if he did, such condemnation would not include a normal heterosexual sexual relationship within the bonds of marriage, especially a Christian marriage.  So what you, Richard, claim to be clear is not at all clear to many who read the same Bible verses as you read.  What is clear, is that Paul is condemning the hatred of God by the heathen, but at the same time promises eternal life to those who persevere in doing good and by such seek honor, glory and eternal life.  That’s sounds like any Christian homosexual who loves the Lord and seeks to honor God through a chaste life or through marital commitment in a life long relationship of love.

Such scrutiny of Scripture has nothing to do with the undermining of Scriptural authority but rather a seeking for God’s message of salvation for those who have been chosen by God.  If there is uncertainty (not a holy uncertainty) it is the uncertainty planted by those who misrepresent God’s intentions and tend to be exclusionary of those different from themselves.

Thanks Al (Mulder) for your take on uncertainty or looking into a glass darkly...  It’s obvious that Bible believing Christians do not hear the Spirit saying the same thing on much of anything, Hence the thousands of different Christian denominations, all claiming the Bible as their authority but yet believing different things on every topic coming out of Scripture.  Do we call this a Spirit led church?

The NIV translates Paul in 1 Cor 13:12 this way: "For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror..." (i.e., re true knowing, vs 9). I grew up on the old language of "For now we see through a glass, darkly..." which in my 80 years I resonate with even more. Unless all Bible believing Christians hear the Spirit saying the same thing, the Spirit's fruit of humility demands a certain amount of uncertainty, and it may not even be wholly holy. Thanks Syd,

I would agree that it is good to be uncertain about things Scripture is not completely clear about. The better/worse vs right/wrong argument has a certain appeal, and in some cases actually applies (though I'd disagree with his point about Tamar).

However the better/worse argument applies when there is a higher principle that comes into play. The accommodations to the injustice of slavery in the NT are couched in terms that actually undermine the practice of slavery (masters must treat slaves as brothers). Paul's letter to Philemon is a masterful example of Paul saying slavery is wrong without actually saying it in so many words.

When it comes to homosexuality, a practice widely accepted in mainstream Greek and Roman culture, the Scripture is always clear and consistent. There's no uncertainty about it. Scripture always condemns the practice and leaves no "wiggle room" for exceptions. We may be uncertain as to why the Scriptures from OT to NT are so consistent (I am), we may wish there were more wiggle room (I sometimes do), but we cannot be uncertain about what Scripture actually says on this subject. We just can't.

An anecdote about compromise proving psychologically fruitful for someone (at least in the short term), demonstrates a better/worse scenario built on a very shaky foundation: "I was depressed when I didn't, but happy when I did." Such a principle could be applied to those who practice even the most heinous sins or crimes, and is often the justification given by those stuck in certain sins. 

I am concerned that such an approach is not merely a door to undermining Scriptural authority, but also establishes another authority altogether: my freedom to "wiggle my way out of" whatever I want to claim is uncertain. When the Scripture is unclear, it is healthy to be uncertain, but when it is clear, it is unhealthy to be uncertain.

Syd,

I appreciate hearing from you!

Thanks, Syd.  

 

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