Friday, 18 July 2008

Homosexuality and the church: a meditation on the tragic (Part Three)

A guest-series by Ray S. Anderson

A Pastor and a Homosexual Christian: A Dialogue

“You spoke earlier of two gay men who acknowledged that same-sex relations were part of the tragic aspect of human sexuality and not what God intended. They accepted the biblical teaching on this point but nonetheless desired fellowship as Christians with other Christians. On this basis they were accepted into the church. But I do not feel that a same-sex relation such as I experience with my partner is contrary to biblical teaching. Our relationship is not promiscuous and we are as faithful and fully committed to each other as any heterosexual married couple. I do not see our situation as tragic. Does this disqualify me from being a member of your church?”

“I understand. If I had only experienced my sexuality as oriented toward the same sex, and if I had felt the same rejection and even hostility directed toward you by society and even the church I would feel the same way. But the two men we are talking about were welcomed into the body of Christ not because their view of the teaching of Scripture conformed to ours, but simply as persons who confessed Christ as Lord and savior. The Kingdom of God places no conditions upon humans in the invitation to enter. Children enter the Kingdom without knowledge of the tragic according to Jesus (Matt 18:2-3). Let me turn your question around. It is not whether or not your sexual orientation and practice disqualifies you from belonging to the body of Christ – but are you willing to enter the Kingdom of God based solely upon the grace of Christ who has already reconciled you to God? (2 Cor 5:19).”

“Suppose I am willing, and become a member of your church on that basis. How do you think I will feel when I am confronted with the biblical teaching that my sexual partner and I are ‘living in sin,’ to go back to the quotation you used from the newspaper?”

“I understand that. Each one of us is confronted by the fact that when the Bible calls us to love our enemies, give to whomever asks of us, set aside filial responsibility for the sake of the Kingdom of God, take up our cross and follow Christ, we enter the realm of the tragic. The demands of the Kingdom of God are not hostile to our humanity, but call us to what it is to be truly human. We seek a truth beyond our own. We are searching for the teaching that calls us out of our sin and places our lives under the promise of redemption.”

“So then, you do say that homosexuality is a sin?”

“Each of us must discover for ourselves what it means to be a sinner. And we cannot discover that nor find redemption from sin apart from a relationship with God. That is the irony of the Kingdom of God. The same grace that welcomes us into the Kingdom, as though we were children, places us under the rule of grace, that is, it exposes what is lacking in our humanity and brings us more and more into conformity with the humanity of Christ. That is the ministry of the body of Christ to one another.”

“Will your church recognize and affirm my ministry to the body? Suppose that I feel a calling to be ordained to pastoral ministry. Will my sexual orientation and practice disqualify me?”

“It is not our responsibility to decide who receives the gift of ministry within the Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul wrote that ‘a spiritual gift is given to each of us so that we can help each other.’ He then added, ‘It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have’ (1 Cor 12:7, 11). There is no one qualified by their own life to receive the gift of the Spirit for ministry, and there is no one disqualified.”

“But I asked about ordination. If that is true, does this mean that if I become a member of your church I could be a candidate for ordination?”

“Ordination, as we commonly speak of it today, was not known by the early Church, even though they later began to set apart Bishops and Elders for the sake of doctrinal continuity and pastoral oversight. Actually, each person baptized into Christ is baptized into his ministry and this can be understood as the basis for what we call ordination. We assume that those set apart by the church for full-time ministry through ordination have the gift of the Spirit. In one sense ordination can simply be understood as the way each church (denomination) sets apart some within the body of Christ, ordinarily a full-time vocation, to teach, lead and minister to the body in accordance with the authority of Scripture. While only members are qualified to be set apart through ordination, being a member does not in itself qualify one for this office. There are other requirements.”

“That’s what I was afraid of. If every member who is baptized into Christ is called into the ministry of Christ, and if every member has the gift of the Spirit for ministry, what are these other requirements?”

“It is kind of like the saying, ‘If it’s everyone’s responsibility to do the work, it often ends up with no one doing it.’ Because the church is a manifestation of the Kingdom of God through a human institution, it suffers from the limitations and weakness of all human organizations. The church in its teaching and ministry based on the authority of Scripture brings Kingdom truths to bear through an institution that is fallible, provisional and often failing to live by the very truths it proclaims. Thus the relation between the church and the Kingdom is also tragic. In recognition of this, the church established a polity and structure by which certain members could be set apart as those most responsible to hold the body of Christ accountable to the Kingdom truths as revealed in Scripture. Those who are ordained to this office are really servants of the Body of Christ, not superior to it.”

“You still have not told me what some of these ‘other requirements’ are.”

“Let me try. For example, because we hold that Scripture teaches that sexual cohabitation outside of marriage is not what God intended, a member of the body who is living with someone not their husband or wife would not be qualified to be ordained. In the same way, a member of the body who is known to be abusive to other family members, including children, would not be qualified. Those who are set apart for the office of teaching and leading others in the body are expected not only to uphold by conviction the truths of Scripture that are taught, but to demonstrate maturity and responsibility in their own lives and relationships with others. ‘They must be committed to the mystery of the faith now revealed and must live with a clear conscience,’ the Apostle Paul wrote (1 Tim 3:9). ‘Do not ordain anyone hastily,’ cautioned Paul (1 Tim 5:22). While the church must embrace the tragic in its ministry of the Kingdom of God, excluding no one who has experienced the grace of salvation in Christ, those set apart for ordination must be able, by knowledge and conviction, to uphold and teach Kingdom truth and to hold the body of Christ in conformity to it. Apart from commitment to celibacy, our church holds that a member of the body whose lifestyle is homosexual would not be qualified.”

“That is very interesting. In a recent newspaper article there was a report of the General Assembly of your denomination voting to remove the restriction upon the ordination of homosexuals. Do I assume that your church will follow this ruling?”

“Didn’t I say that the relation between the church and the Kingdom of God is tragic? Well, this may be one instance of that. We feel that our position regarding ordination is biblical and in accordance with Kingdom truth under biblical authority. The denomination cannot force us to change our belief and practice. At the same time, we bear the ‘name brand’ of the national church body, and will be in the awkward position of not being able to support a denominational policy while at the same time holding fast to our view of what the Bible teaches. While there are a variety of views regarding biblical authority and what the Bible teaches within the denomination regarding many issues relating to social, personal and sexual ethics, there is a steadfast commitment to the Apostolic faith as represented in the ancient Creeds. We hold denominational leaders accountable to the confession of faith rooted in these creeds. If they fail at this point, then it becomes a matter of Kingdom truth rather than merely unbiblical practice. Is this not part of our own Protestant tradition? The denomination is our spiritual home, it connects us to each other, though often with pain, and to those who went before us in the faith. It is our family, and to leave would make us orphans.”

“I didn’t realize that belonging to a church is so complicated! I am tempted to find one that conforms more to my own belief and lifestyle. But I have read enough of the Bible to know that Jesus was always on the side of Kingdom truth. That seemed to be what attracted people to him. And I must confess, I’m not sure I want a church that looks just like me. One more question, I have a friend who does belong to your denomination and is considering being ordained. She was quite dismayed at the recent ruling by the General Assembly as she feels that the ordination of homosexuals is not based on biblical truth and questions whether or not she should go ahead with ordination. What would you say to her?”

“Ordination is part of the church culture; it gives access to ministry that might not otherwise be possible. When Timothy, who had a Greek father but a Jewish mother, wanted to accompany Paul on his mission, ‘in deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left’ (Acts 16:3). Paul had earlier refused to circumcise Titus arguing that this would appear to make circumcision a requirement of the gospel. Ordination is something like that. In a sense, it is like an admission ticket to the institutional church’s culture of ministry. It is part of the tragic connection between the church and the Kingdom of God. Jesus embraces the tragic for the sake of bringing redemption and hope. If ordination enables you to follow Jesus, and if you understand the tragic, you can make this concession with clear conscience and a peaceful heart.”

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