Friday, September 19, 2014

Struggling with Churches while Struggling with Same-Sex Attraction...

The Gospel Coalition has posted an excellent article by Rev. Sam Allberry entitled, "How Can The Church Help Those Battling Same-Sex Attraction?" Before moving on with this blog, I recommend clicking on this link and reading this article.

One thing I found impressive about this article is that it is more about church culture than it is about same-sex attraction. Here, Rev. Allberry shares "five steps that can guide churches in helping Christians with same-sex attraction." Below, I list these five steps and make observations from my experiences of being a Christian and attending various churches for over forty years. Regrettably, I have found most churches do not value the things needed to help people who struggle with same sex attraction. Therefore, my comments are more about church culture than same-sex attraction.

"1. Make it easy to talk about."
This is essential to help anyone struggling with any sin in his or her life. However, I have found that churches have a culturally-based hierarchy of sin that is taught informally church. That is, they unofficially teach that some sins are unacceptable while others are more acceptable, and same-sex attraction is an unacceptable sin. As a result, same-sex attraction cannot be talked about openly, even with pastors. To do so opens such a person up to shame and ridicule, not to mention isolation from being able to minister to others in the church. So, where can such a person go to talk with a concerned Christian about such temptations? There are many secular counselors who will encourage them to explore their sexuality, meaning to try living a homosexual lifestyle.

"2. Honor singleness." 
This is also rarely followed because churches are intentionally built around families. Indeed, families are more stable regarding church attendance than are singles. For example, I was advised by a pastor to focus on families in my community for this reason when starting a small community group. It is not that he was incorrect about stability. It is that churches tend to devalue single people in their respective congregations, as a result. I remember being a single adult years ago, and most single groups at churches reminded me of dog breeding: "Put them together and see if they match up," seemed to be the attitude. As a result, many people struggling with same-sex attraction are marginalized in church if they choose to remain single.

"3. Remember the church is a family." 
Amen! (Please forgive my outburst...I am a former Baptist). For many years, I have seen churches run as businesses focusing on market shares and managed for numerical growth.  An excellent book addressing this approach to ministry is by John Piper entitled, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals: A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry. Indeed, radical Christian ministry cannot be compared to secular occupations. When ministry is treated as a profession, churches often also treat members as workers, and workers can be fired or transfered to another business. If ministry is treated as a radical calling from God and church members are treated as a family, people struggling with same-sex attraction would not be "fired" from their church or encouraged to "transfer" to another church.

"4. Deal with biblical models of masculinity and femininity, rather than promote cultural stereotypes."
Excellent advice! I have attended too many churches that treat gender roles in fictional ways. For example, I have heard many a teacher in church promote the idea that women are passive and men are aggressive; that women are caring and nurturing, and men are logical and objective. This is simply not true! I have known many logical and objective women, and nurturing and caring men. An argument might be made that women express aggressiveness differently than do men. The problem is that when a man expresses nurturing and caring traits, he is often considered effeminate. When doing this, christians are actually encouraging gender confusion because they focus on traits that are neither strictly masculine nor feminine. 

"5. Provide good pastoral support."
For many years, I have noticed that churches have many preachers, teachers, builders, executives, and managers leading churches, but few pastors. One of the few exceptions was my mother-in-law's pastor. This man was a real pastor, and I admire him. He is ordained in one of the more theologically liberal denominations (Presbyterian Church - USA), and I am sure he and I have some significant theological differences (I am also a Presbyterian, but evangelical and more theologically conservative). However, this man really pastored his congregation. He knew my mother-in-law personally, and was with her in the hospital along with our other family members when she died. In contrast, my immediate family and I left a church several years ago when we realized we had no pastors in this church that knew us personally, even though I was a teacher there. If facing a spiritual crisis, we had no one to turn to for pastoral help. Today, too many evangelical churches are run as businesses, leaving the pastoring to lay members of the congregation. When a person struggling with same-sex attraction needs to talk with a pastor, they are often left with no one to talk to except other lay members who may not understand what to say or what to do.

I should note that I do not struggle with same sex attraction, but have talked with Christians who do. They live in shame and fear, experiencing loneliness and depression that can lead to thoughts of suicide.

The church's response is often a cultural one that encourages the shame, threatens such people so they live in fear, and shuns them such that their loneliness and depression increases. As a result, I must conclude:

We are truly the church of Laodicea! 
(see Revelation 3:14-22)

We are so rich and self-sufficient that we think we need nothing else and nobody else. In reality, we have many brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction, and we need these people in our churches. They have spiritual gifts God has given them to help us in our spiritual mission. Without such people, we are incomplete (see Hebrews 11:40).

Finally, another thing I found impressive about this article is that its author, Rev. Sam Allberry, shared how he struggles with same-sex attraction. How many of us would publically admit to struggling with our own sins, especially when they are not on the unofficial "approved" list of acceptable sins in our culture? This takes courage! 

My hope is that we can foster the kind of growth in our own churches that makes them safe havens for members struggling with same-sex attraction. This will happen when such brothers and sisters in Christ are able to share their struggles with us.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday Prayer...

"We confess we have forfeited all our mercies; we have heard much of God, Christ and heaven with our ears, but there is little of God, Christ and heaven in our hearts.  We confess, many of us by hearing sermons, are grown sermon-proof; we know how to scoff and mock at sermons, but we know not how to live sermons..."
"Make us Christians not only by outward profession, but an inward heart-experience, that we may live in heaven while we are on earth and come to heaven when we shall leave the earth."
- Edmund Calamy the Elder, Prayer at Aldermanbury, excerpt. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

If God Did Not Exist...

If God did not exist, I would be an atheist rather than an idolator. I would not want to set up a false God of my own making, which is an idol. Such idols consume those who worship them, and do not return anything that meets the amount of devotion we would spend worshiping them. Yet, I cannot avoid setting up idols.

John Calvin wrote about this in The Institutions of the Christian Religion. After reviewing the origins of idol making among humans, he concluded, "...the human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols..." He went on to note,
"The human mind, stuffed as it is with presumptuous rashness, dares to imagine a god suited to its own capacity; as it labors under dullness, nay, is sunk in the grossest ignorance, it substitutes vanity and an empty phantom in the place of God. To these evils another is added. The god whom man has thus conceived inwardly he attempts to embody outwardly. The mind, in this way, conceives the idol, and the hand gives it birth. That idolatry has its origin in the idea which men have, that God is not present with them unless his presence is carnally exhibited...
- Calvin, John (2008-04-03). Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book I, Chapter XI  (Kindle Locations 1963-1966). Signalman Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Indeed, this reminds me of the passage in Isaiah chapter 44 verses 14-20 describing those who make idols:
"He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
"They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, 'Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?' He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
- Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Kindle Locations 28816-28821). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

Certainly, we have progressed beyond those days of making wood idols. Have we not progressed beyond such "primitive" thinking?  I may try to fool myself and think that I am too intelligent to make an idol out of wood, but as Tim Keller notes in his book, Counterfeit Gods,
"What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.
"A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living"
- "Introduction: The Idol Factory," p. xvii - xviii, 2009, Dutton/Penguin Group (U.S.A.) Inc.

So much for my self-righteousness and pride. I am an idol maker! Indeed, I am a 21st century idol maker in that I have replaced idols of wood with modern idols of ambition, pride, lust, and many other vices.

What this adds up to is this: my desire to make idols out of material or immaterial things points to a need in my heart to worship the true God. However, at the same time I also have a will that rebels against the true God. So, I resort to making idols, and become a hypocrite.

As I noted, above, if God did not exist, I would be an atheist. I would not want to set up a false God of my own making. Yet, even if I do not believe in God, I still set up idols of various sorts. Some of my idols are good such as family, work, and the like. Some idols are vices. All of my idols consume me, thus, revealing their false nature.

My only escape from such idols is worshiping the true God. How can I know the true God? John tells us,
"No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known"
- John chapter 1 verse 18. Crossway Bibles (2011-02-09). The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Kindle Locations 41828-41830). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

This is the man we call Jesus, who was fully man and fully God at the same time. He is my escape from idols, for if I worship Him, I worship the true God.