I try to be cautious these days writing a blog that may come across as attacking the views or expression of someone in particular. It's no secret that I've written angrily against SGM in particular in the past and particularly the church in Bristol - and I'm trying to address that in my own private way and make peace there. So believe me - I'm trying to learn and trying to grow! I'm even more cautious when writing against someone whom I am privilidged to count as a friend. That being said, I am so blessed to have the kind of friendship with Janelle that we do indeed disagree on many points of theology and Christian life - but know there is far more we do agree about. I've learnt a lot about SGM's way of life from Janelle and indeed she alongside Pete Greasley have probably been the most influential in softening my feelings!
So that context in place - a conversation has been happening on a post a few back entitled; "Curing the Gays" and this was prompted by the media interest in Philippa Stroud and her election campaign (incidentally I was interested to know that Mrs Stroud is now special advisor to Ian Duncan-Smith, the former Conservative leader) - to the dismay of some and the delight of others.
It was a conversation I was particularly taking seriously because a new Twitter friend of mine - a guy called Tom - has taken part and I was interested in his views and wanted to learn from his point of view. For heaven's sake - Christians are notorious among non-Christians for being obstinate and utterly inflexible. I don't want to propigate that (mostly) truth. If I am going to have any credibility with the people I want to share the good news with - then I want to know what's going on in their mind and their thoughts and learn why the good news of the gospel will be of use to them. So often the Christian world dumps the gospel out as it thinks the non-Christian world needs it - and can't understand why it's message is received as utterly irrelevant.
Janelle was involved in the conversation - but it was a comment she made that caught my attention and has had me thinking all day. She said;
"Tom, since the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin, so Christians must do the same".
There is some other context in the comment - considering how homosexuality is a worse sin in her view than gluttony - so I do recommend a read.
The Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin. So Christians must do the same.
Let's consider that carefully - because if it's true there are some implications for me personally. It explains to me maybe why I received the treatment I did at the SGM church in Bristol. If Janelle is right then the two church leaders were simply following the Biblical mandate to "condemn homosexuality as a sin". I had confessed to them that I had same-sex feelings so therefore condemnation from the church was rightfully deserved. And actually I am the one in sin for being angry and upset with what happened. She may be right.
Alternatively Janelle may be wrong and actually what right do Christians (sinners saved by grace alone) have to condemn ANYTHING?! Well clearly I have a vested interest in finding out. It may decide whether I ever enter a church again or not.
The Word: "Condemn(ation)".
1. to pass an adverse judgment on; disapprove of strongly; censure
2a. to pass judicial sentence on; inflict a penalty upon
2b. to doom
3. to declare unfit for use or service
I find 2c; "To doom" particularly striking. I should note some of the definitions actually rather accurately describe some of the attitudes portrayed by the religious church. Does that make it right however? There's only one way to find out;
2. Useage in the Word of God.
Unsurprisingly the majority of the references to the word; "Condemn" are in the Old Testament. However there are some surprising references that foreshadow the coming of the glorious New Covenant and the gospel that must be mentioned;
Psalm 34:22: "The Lord redeems the soul of His servants - and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned".
I find that tremendous comfort knowing the struggling depths of my heart. I have felt so utterly condemned time after time by Christians who seem on the face of it never to put a foot wrong and are in fact shining lights in their churches - held up as model citizens and examples. I have frequently (and still do) asked God why on earth He ever called me. This verse says that those who genuinely take refuge in Him will NEVER be condemned. That's a promise.
Here's another interesting "Old Testament anomoly";
Isaiah 50:9; "Behold the Lord God helps me - who is he who condemns me? Behold they will all wear out like a garment. The moth will eat them".
I don't quite understand that promise from the Word of God - but I would not like to be in the position of someone who condemns those that the Lord God is helping. I don't know what the promise means - but I do not want to wear out like a garment or have a moth eat me. So far - I'm not fancying condemning those who the Lord God is helping.
Isaiah 54:17: "And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn - This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me," declares the Lord".
This seems to suggest to me that in fact in His divine providence - the Lord actually reverses the tables on those religious who would condemn. "Every tongue that accuses you in judgement" - again the clear indication from the Word of God to me is that the Lord takes severe issue with those who attempt to do what only He should do.
There are of course other references in the Old Testament to condemnation - but not as many as I was expecting under an Old Covenant. Then we move into the New Covenant and the wonderful time of Jesus;
John 8:10-11: "Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either - Go From now on sin no more."
It's interesting that Jesus Christ asked the prostitute; "Did no one condemn you?". The Son of God knew that the religious community are somehow more than capable of condemning. But the key is in the answer. I do not condemn you either - on the basis of that declaration of freedom (and frankly who is going to disagree with the Son of God?) go in freedom and joy and live a life full of victory and peace and sin no more.
There are others but for now Romans 2:1 to close;
"Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things".
I would be extremely nervous of indulging in the discussion of "which is the greater sin - gluttony or homosexuality" that Janelle touched on. The Word of God is clear; "There is no impartiality with God". Sin is sin. And for that sin - there is a glorious solution. The Son of God went willingly to the Cross of Calvary and died for the sins of ALL Mankind. It is finished - meant it is finished. Every sin that offends and grieves God from time past to time present to the end of time was more than covered by the precious blood of the Son of God. Therefore;
Romans 8:1: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus".
2 Corinthians 5:19: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation".
Our one and only message (as Julie said in her response comment) is the message of reconciliation. Terry Virgo said of condemnation;
"Condemnation is a WORK OF DARKNESS! It doesn't work! It has no power to change!".
Again - I would not relish indulging in activity that is entitled a "work of darkness with no power to change". Rather I choose to continue reaching out to the multitude of those who have not heard the full glory of the gospel - and far from condemn - make a full honest confession of my struggles and my journey. I am not going to pretend to be a "perfect, devout" Christian. I'd rather share with them my struggles, my journey - and how "this Jesus" has met me and loved me despite all I am and all I would be. THAT'S the miracle of the gospel!
Janelle - in all love and respect for you as a sister in Christ - condemn homosexuality if you feel you must and you should. Maybe you are confident of your sanctification to feel you can do that. But I remember again C J Mahaney's sermon; "Extravagant Devotion". And this quote in particular;
"He who has been forgiven much - loves much".
I used to wish that I really was a "perfect" Christian - whose worse sin was a bit of envy or a bit of pride. Or maybe a small bit of lust (because we're all men). But certainly not anything "bigger". Now actually I am beginning to appreciate what C J Mahaney was getting at. When you have experienced the depths of sin and struggle - you don't find much room in your heart for pride and arrogance. Me? I say again -
"The Cross does not have to be centred around me and be sustained by reflecting on my own personal failure! ... To insist on still calling myself a sinner could not add value to the Cross for me. Indeed, to call myself essentially a sinner actually dishonours the wonder of the gospel".