The vital missing piece in church teaching today

March 28, 2014 — 15 Comments

Blue QuestionThe tides are changing in our culture today. It is obvious that churches and parachurch ministries are struggling to respond to all the changes. For me, it is important to base my worldview on the authority of Scripture — not the latest trends and opinion polls.

After reading this post, some will offer me encouragement for boldly taking a strong biblical position on Christianity’s latest intra-familial feud — the firestorm over World Vision’s earlier decision to begin hiring legally married homosexuals. Others will just as passionately criticize me as a non-thinking simpleton intent on keeping the proverbial pot stirred and giving a bad name to Christ. Yes, unfortunately, that is an accurate description of the diversity that exists among professing Christians. Whatever the case may be, please understand that this post at its core is not about me; it’s about a vital missing piece in church teaching today.

There’s no escaping the fact that the issue of homosexuality is frequently held out to be the sin that many evangelicals prefer to condemn. You can see this in news stories and especially in the comment threads on Christian sites. I contend that such condemnation of sin is, in most cases, not grounded in fear, hate, or contempt for sinners, as many would prefer us to believe. Rather, it is grounded in the biblical teaching that those who trust Christ for salvation will be constantly striving to die to sin — not deny it, excuse it, minimize it, justify it, or re-classify it. Indeed, each of us as believers must instead confess our sins and REPENT of our sinful ways. And we are ALL guilty of sin, or else we wouldn’t need a Savior.

THE MISSING PIECE
It is this vital aspect of repentance that is so gravely missing from the teaching and preaching of many churches today. I’d go so far as to say that it’s the primary reason we’re facing such an increasingly hostile anti-Christian culture here in America. And it’s not hard to see why it’s so tempting for Christian pastors and teachers to not mention the R word — because it makes people very uncomfortable. Let’s face it: it makes us uncomfortable too.

When the world sees the church take seriously our own heterosexual sins (i.e., lust, adultery, fornication, debauchery, cohabitation, pornography, etc.) — often hidden and intentionally unaddressed –  then perhaps we will stand a greater chance of being heard when we speak against homosexual sin. After all, the capacity for sexual sin is not limited to those who engage in homosexual acts and relationships. It has been suggested that the porn industry in the U.S. would be dealt a serious financial blow if Christians suddenly stopped supporting it. My personal and clinical experience in Christian churches and counseling centers tells me this is not an unreasonable claim.

Only by the power of Christ at work within us are we able to resist our proclivity to sin — be it gossip, gluttony, slander, etc. It is a lifestyle of daily repentance and abiding in God’s Word that leads us to personal holiness. In their stated attempt to promote unity among professing Christians, the leadership of World Vision, like some mainline denominations and self-described progressive Christians, demonstrated a flawed understanding of the process of discipleship — not to mention a careless disregard for the historicity of Christianity.

Perhaps no one said it better than my Public Catholic friend Rebecca Hamilton (D), state representative in Oklahoma, on her own blog on Tuesday:

The little g gods of self say that whatever people want to do is morally right. We refuse the real God and chase, like a dog following its tail, after this most picayune of gods — our ever-changing, never-satisfied desires. We fix our course on self-love, selfishness, self-righteousness, self-promotion; everything but self-awareness.

We lie to everyone to excuse our behavior, but most especially we lie to ourselves.

When a well-known Christian organization publicly departs from 2,000 years of Christian teaching on a matter as serious as the definition of marriage, it can not legitimately claim, as World Vision has done, that it is doing it to “unite Christians.” That’s a specious argument if I have ever heard one.

AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH
Here’s the inconvenient truth: Blessing sin is not an option for believers, as there is no basis for it whatsoever within the pages of Scripture. There are some extremely messed-up and shallow theological interpretations being championed as truth in today’s world. Sadly, many are being led astray by church leaders who espouse a very different gospel — not the gospel that leads to abundant life and eternal life, but one that appeals to the lowest common denominator and tramples upon the grace of God.

To be sure, World Vision is not known for its assertive evangelism strategy, yet it has always claimed to be unashamedly Christian in its mission, its action, and its hiring and staff conduct policies. Therefore, it was no surprise to me that the immediate and overwhelming outcry by World Vision’s partners, and subsequently by the evangelical community as a whole, was one of shock, dismay, and disbelief. There are, of course, many humanitarian organizations which do good work but which have no ties to Christianity, and many World Vision supporters clearly began to wonder if their organization was on track to become one of them.

A CALL TO LOVE
Loving people in a very practical way involves caring for orphans and widows, feeding the hungry, serving the poor, and being advocates of justice in our communities and our world. But loving people also involves pointing them to the truths of God’s Word — because it is in the truth of Christ that we find freedom from the bondage of sin and self. The truth is that one cannot claim to be in Christ yet continue to live with unconfessed sin and an unrepentant spirit. We are to be constantly working out our salvation until the glorious day when we meet Jesus face to face.

I applaud the leadership team at World Vision for reversing course, identifying some of the blind spots that left them vulnerable to worldly influence, and confessing that their earlier decision was inconsistent with both the traditional evangelical interpretation of Scripture and their own mission statement. While I am grateful for the public acknowledgment of mistakes and missteps, I regret that great damage has been done not only to their own credibility but also to the Christian community as a whole. And when that happens, there really are no winners apart from Satan himself.

But more than all that, I am grateful that within the reversal letter Richard Stearns, President of World Vision, provided an example of repentance — which is something rarely seen on such a lofty scale. Many will see this as mere political pandering to the so-called religious right. Others will view it simply as a business decision to appease the organization’s evangelical base and thereby cut their losses. I prefer to see this decision as a heartfelt acknowledgment that one can love and care for sinners without compromising the integrity of Scripture. Certainly trust has been damaged, but the beauty of true repentance is that, in humility, it paves the way for reconciliation. I pray that for the sake of millions of children all over the world that this organization, through its ministry partners, will continue to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need. Surely that is something upon which we can all agree.

A WORD OF WARNING
Christians in this country are facing difficult times. This week’s very public debacle is merely a premonition of things to come as we move forward in an increasingly post-Christian culture. I share Hamilton’s concern, as expressed in her follow-up post:

I am certain without doubt that the challenges to Christians are just beginning. We are not even really out of the gate when it comes to the dissolution and dissing that is heading our way.

Can they (World Vision) take it?

Can you?

I’m pretty sure that we’re all going to get the chance to find out.

As growing disciples of Christ, let’s strive to live our lives in accordance with the Scriptures, realizing that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The philosophies of this world will shift and shake, but the Word of God is a solid foundation on which to build our lives. May our love for Christ be evident to all, may our efforts to speak truth always be couched in love, and may we closely examine the nooks and crannies of our own hearts first and foremost.

After all, the world is watching. And they need Jesus.


For a more eloquent and historical viewpoint, be sure to check out Kevin DeYoung’s post: “Why Is This Issue Different?”

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15 responses to The vital missing piece in church teaching today

  1. 

    A very well thought through presentation and I agree with you. The slow bending we have done to acceptance of many things against scripture is why our nation is now in desperate times. Perhaps believers who are yielding to acceptance of things against scripture would do well to re-read God’s wrath laid out in the exodus and wilderness years of the Israelite children. The core thing being forgotten is we were created for relationship with God not to do whatever we please. We need to sober up and remember that He is a mighty God and One who will not be ignored forever. Thank you, Garrick, for taking a stand.

    • 

      Thanks, Pat. You are so right that it IS about our relationship with Him. This issue is heavy on my heart. I see so much at stake, especially for our children and grandchildren. I appreciate you being a faithful reader.

  2. 

    I agree. For months I have been struggling with “how” to respond to the issue of homosexuality. I’ve listened to and attended Bible Studies. I’ve prayed and studied The Word. I’ve pondered. Just yesterday, I was led to a path of belief.
    We all sin. No sin is worse than another. Some sin seems insignificant and we just let it go. The sin of homosexuality seems to be the deal-breaker for Christians, but it is no different than the sin of living together without marriage. The 2nd being socially acceptable.
    You are right about repentance! So, what about homosexuality? Unless a sinner comes to know Christ, accepts him as their savior, and repents, they will never be convicted of the sin in their life. So first, they must be brought to the saving knowledge of Christ. Then the Holy Spirit will convict the Christian of their sin. Walking with Christ, repentance and acceptance of forgiveness is a daily act.
    I accepted Christ, and sin daily. My desire to please the Father leads me to follow his teachings. Then each day brings a new commitment to follow him. Every Christian struggles with sin in their life.
    Conclusion: None of us are required to stop sinning prior to accepting Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who convicts us of our sin and strengthens our Desire to make changes in our life. Daily commitment, and repentance is required for major life changes.

    • 

      Gena,

      Thanks for your thoughtful reply. This is a particularly difficult topic for many believers. I thought hard about it before posting my own response. Regarding sin: all sin is equal in that it separates us from fellowship and intimacy in our walk with Christ. However, all sin is NOT equal in terms of its destructive power over us, particularly as we relate to others. The article by J. I. Packer on p.28 of this journal has been particularly helpful in informing my own theology on this common point of discussion: http://terrymccann.blogs.com/my_weblog/files/ji_packer.pdf

      Thanks for your faithfulness and friendship. It’s good to be able to sharpen one another.

  3. 

    How about freedom of religion? Does that count or are you proposing a founding American principle be erased from history?

    • 

      Thanks for your comment. I definitely value the freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment. My post isn’t directed to the government or to non-believers in Jesus Christ. This post is intended for professing believers, and specifically for pastors, teachers, and other key leaders in the Christian faith. As a pastor myself, I am simply calling on my brothers and sisters in Christ to demonstrate love and grace to all — just as Christ does — but to take seriously the importance of fleeing from sin and returning to God through humble repentance. It’s not about either/or; it’s about both/and. I hope this helps clarify your concerns.

      • 

        Interesting. How many posts have you written on FAT gluttons? Any protests planned outside fast food shops? And just out of curiosity, how does your hair-cut square with biblical rules?

        • 

          I haven’t participated in any protests whatsoever, and I have none planned. Those who know me can attest that I’ve addressed a number of sinful behaviors through my writing, speaking, and teaching through the years. I even referenced some of them in this post — things that I believe are important to address.

          • 

            As a Catholic or a Protestant?

          • 

            I’m a Protestant, but I have a number of Catholic friends. Yourself?

          • 

            Just curious because you must realize that to a Catholic, not following their ‘format’ means you’re ‘out’.Sinner, heathen, infidel etc… You get that, right?

          • 

            I’m sure there are many who probably believe that, but that’s not the way I see it . . . and not the way my Catholic friends see it either. We are one Church under the lordship of Jesus Christ, which was one of the points made in the original post by Rebecca Hamilton. Of course, I am observing Lent as a matter of my own personal devotion and worship, so maybe even some of the more hard-nosed Catholics will extend grace my direction. :)

          • 

            Protestants are not Catholics. Just ask the people in northern Ireland. If you don’t submit to that particular ideology you’re damned, in their opinion.
            Do you think excluding a third group brings you together?

          • 

            This reasoning sounds remarkably similar to ‘he who is an enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ That is not my perspective in the least. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’m not seeking to exclude anyone or any group of people. Quite the contrary, in fact! But repentance is a necessary part of salvation, and the desire to please the Lord is certainly an evidence of a life lived in submission to Him. I’d encourage you to check out Kevin DeYoung’s article that I recommended at the end of my post today.

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