Sunday, October 01, 2006

On the Narrow

I've been reading a lot lately about progressive Christianity. I want to be up to date with what's going on theologically around me. The most disturbing things I've come across are these: The "pliability" of Scripture (and the nature of its authority), and the idea that love makes everything okay.

To address the second thing first, love does not make everything ok. Jesus tells us to love everyone - our neighbor, our enemy, God, and ourselves - but he also called us to "do the will of [his] Father in heaven(Mt. 7:21, 24-25; Jn. 14:15)." God's love for us is the driving force of the Gospel. His love fore Israel is the main theme of the Old Testament. The Law and the Prophets hang on love. But what does it mean to love, in Biblical terms?

When Christ gives the two great commands, the first and most important is to love God. In Deuteronomy we're told to love Him with all our heart, soul, and mind. And how do we do that? We praise and obey Him. There's more to it than that, of course, but if you boil it down, that's what we come to. I won't go into a description of this, because if you can disagree with it, I think you have bigger fish to fry.

The second command was like the first, to love one another. Obviously this love is not the same...we aren't supposed to praise and obey each other indefinitely. But Christ gives many examples of what it means to love one another.

He eats with the outcasts, lifts up the sick and poor, focuses on children, and lays his life down for us. But, there is something that Christians are being asked to do by "progressive" and mainline churches that goes against Christ's example, and Paul's teaching. We are being asked to endorse sin under the pretense of loving one another. But Jesus did something quite different.

In Matthew 16, after Peter's confession, Jesus rebukes him fiercely, calling him Satan. "You do not have in mind the things of God," he says, "but the things of men." Peter was working from the human assumption that God wouldn't allow his Son, the Messiah, to be killed. We, much the same way, work from the human assumption that God wouldn't allow someone to be born in a way that forces them to resist their natural desires.

Obviously, the subject at hand is homosexuality. And while I have known and befriended a handful of gay people in my lifetime, I remain convinced of God's intention for romantic relationships. In the less applicable Mosaic Law, the text says that a man is not to lie with another man as he would lie with a woman, and the same thing for women. The prevailing wisdom says of this that there are two different verbs relating to sex, translated as "to lie with" and "to know". The former is a reference to sex without attachment...one-night-stands and such. The latter refers to sex within a loving relationship. So, to make them current, we'll use "have sex" and "make love". What we're left with is a simple "all a is b, but not all b is a." All apples are fruits, but not all fruits are apples. All sharks are fish, but not all fish are sharks. You get it right? All love-making is sex, but not all sex is love-making. So, by comparison, to know is always to lie with, but to lie with isn't always to know. So, if the Bible says you can't have sex with a certain group of people, does that mean you can make love? I'm gonna go with...no.

But since the Mosaic Law was fulfilled, I'll have to look at something a little more current. First, 1 Corinthians. Paul says here that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God, and includes in his list four sexual categories: the sexually immoral, adulterers, male prostitutes, and homosexual offenders. Depending on your translation the words may be different in English. Many will tell you that "homosexual offenders" means people who commit crimes of a homosexual nature (rape, generally). Unfortunately, that doesn't really hold up to logic. If that was the case, why did he single out two types of homosexual activity? Why not lump them in with "sexually immoral" if you had to do something that would have been immoral if it were heterosexual to fall in the category? And why didn't he enumerate female prostitutes as well? Does that mean it's ok, since he didn't say it? Obviously not.

Some theologians will posit that "porneia" the word translated "sexually immoral" refered specifically to pagan temple prostitutes, and therefore fits perfectly into this passage. But then why would Paul say that there must not be even a hint of "porneia" among us, if it ment temple prostitutes and not sexual immorality?

Alright, since you can hide behind Greek on that one I'll back track a bit to Romans 1. "Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion."

Again, people will say that this is condemnation of sex without love (based on the "inflamed with lust" part). But that's not what I'm looking at. It also says that women gave up natural relations for unnatural ones, and in the same way, men "abandoned natural relations with women". So, presumably, "natural relations" occur between members of opposing gender (heterosexual, if you need it spelled out). Don't be fooled by people saying that the problem was that the men and women described switched from their "natural" orientation (be that hetero- or homosexual). That's just bad theology.

So, when you combine these passages you get a pretty clear Biblical view on homosexuality. But there's where the other problem begins. Apparently, "for the Bible tells me so" is no longer a sufficient answer for Christians. Strange, considering that's what sparked the Reformation, which was the starting point for most of the mainline denominations.

Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion...

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