Have I Got a Book for You
In college, a classmate loaned me a copy of “Is the Homosexual my Neighbor?,” thinking that I would read it and come to ‘see the light’ as it were. (As I recall, the approach was along the lines of, ‘You’re a Christian? Here, read this book, it has all the answers so that you can feel OK with being gay.’) I do appreciate this fellow’s desire to assuage the conflict between my faith and my same sex attractions – he meant well. But I got the sense that I was a project on an assembly line, and not a person. (I.e. – Christian = Ignorant / Entrapped / Repressed. Add Pro-gay Theology Book + Friendship + Exposure to the Real World in Center City Philly = New Identity and Freedom.) Life doesn’t always work out that way. The deep roots of my faith and all the thought I’d put into these issues prior to each of us having met were not taken into account.
And we shouldn’t treat people who identify as gay, lesbian, transgender or bisexual in this way, either. It takes time to get to know people for who they are, and we need to respect where they are coming from. Now, in this blog, I’m severely limited in my ability to do this with anyone who reads these posts. And I’m sorry – it’s the nature of the medium. Please do know that when you take the time to post a comment, I think about the person behind the words, and hope to beat back the limitations as best I can.
Anyway, I did read “ITHMN” and I’ve read other gay apologetic works – and as much as I wanted to believe that there was another door that they could open, the reasoning they used always came up short for me. It was easy to see through the holes in the proposals and re-interpretations of Scripture in these books.
These men ask me to believe they can read between the lines of the old texts; the evidence is their obvious inability to read (in any sense worth discussing) the lines themselves. They claim to see fern-seed and can’t see an elephant ten yards way in broad daylight.
~ CS Lewis, “Fern-Seed and Elephants”
Although Lewis wasn’t addressing books by gay theologians in the essay quoted above, he does bring depth and clarity to the current trend of “recovering the true meaning” of a variety of ancient works, not just the Bible, that one can easily see running rampant through their books. If you have found yourself taken by the concept that older writers didn’t know what they were talking about, and believe that finding the truth is really up to us in our advanced modern, technically advanced age, I highly recommend you read over and think about the points Lewis makes in the essay: http://orthodox-web.tripod.com/papers/fern_seed.html
As I’m working through these Scripture passages in this series of blog posts, please note that I’m only aiming to share what I’ve come to know, and not at covering each matter comprehensively. Again, I first recommend that you take the time to read the words in the Bible for yourself, honestly before God. Secondly, I can try to address questions in more detail in the comments over time, but here I will ask for your patience with this. Thirdly, if you would like to read more on these topics, I’d recommend Joe Dallas’ book, The Gay Gospel? (See the link on the Resources tab under Books.) And no, I don’t think that all you need to do is read this one book and you’ll be a new person tomorrow. As I just mentioned, this is a blog – I don’t know you! It’s just a resource that I’ve found helpful, and you can check it out if you’d like. Again, I hope it would move you to further study of what the Lord has to say in the Scriptures.
Train of (I Really Don’t Want to Give This Much) Thought
For agnosticism is, in a sense, what I am preaching. I do not wish to reduce the skeptical elements in your minds. I am only suggesting that it need not be reserved exclusively for the New Testament and the Creeds. Try doubting something else.
~ CS Lewis, “Fern-Seed and Elephants”
I’ve seen this train of thought time and time again…
Oh, you think homosexuality is sinful because it’s written in the Bible?
Well, then whey are you eating shellfish / bacon or wearing clothing woven of different fabrics, etc.?
This line of questioning has become a popular way of dismissing a variety of people and ideas involving Christianity. These prohibitions are actually in the Bible after all – how can people be so stupid as to not see how hypocritical they are if they’re not following these rules? Isn’t love far more important than wearing a cotton / Lycra blend? Or eating shrimp? If you take this at face value, it’s easy to blow off the whole book, and the rest of the Christian faith along with it, seeing how these obvious discrepancies are being willfully overlooked.
But, there is more to the story, and it’s not that difficult to comprehend. It’s due to something that Christians take for granted as part of their everyday faith. Hopefully I can shed some light on this here.
In fact – let’s make it very basic – I can give you the answer to this seemingly contradictory dilemma in one word. Are you ready?
Thank you, and goodnight.
OK, OK, let’s dig a bit deeper. Pick up a Bible close to you and turn to the table of contents – you’ll see two headings: “Old Testament” and “New Testament.” That implies that there is a division, that something happened to distinguish the two sections. The word “testament” comes from the Late Latin testamentum and means, “a covenant with God.” So there was an Old Covenant, and a New Covenant.
The Old Covenant
The Old Covenant is the covenant between God and Israel, the history and content of which is recorded in the first five books of the Bible. Basically, it’s the agreement – the contract or the law – given to Israel by God on Mt. Sinai. You might be familiar with the Ten Commandments, which are a part of the 600 or so laws that came along with this covenant. These range from things that most everyone can agree on as being wrong (I.e. – killing or murdering another person) to those that seem strange (I.e. – wearing clothing woven of two different fabrics.)
The deal was, one needed to keep these commandments in order to be seen as righteous before God. And with all of those prohibitions and “must-do’s,” that was a lot of work! When people would fall short of these standards, the penalty was usually rather harsh – in many cases, death. And, on a regular basis, the priests would gather to sacrifice an animal (or quite a few animals) to take that death penalty in the place of the guilty parties.
Cheery, eh? Year after year of not measuring up to the standards of a righteous and holy God, left to face punishment – even death. What hope is there to break this cycle?
The New Covenant
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Behold – the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29
Enter Jesus – and what an intro by John the Baptist. Jesus came and lived a perfect life – he obeyed the laws, lived up to all the commandments and more. He then went on to stand in our place as the ultimate sacrifice, the Lamb of God – taking our death penalty so that we wouldn’t have to.
This was a huge, radical shift in how people related to God – no more animal sacrifices, no more death penalties. Individuals now had access to confessing and repentance of their sins without having to go to a priest who alone had access to enter the Holy of Holies within the temple to plead one’s case.
Yet, that didn’t mean that Jesus was throwing out all of the commands given to us under the Old Covenant. Let’s look at what He said about this:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:17-20
On first reading, what Jesus teaches us here might sound very discouraging. “…unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers…you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Seriously? The Pharisees and teachers of the law went out of their way to keep all the commandments that they could – and then, they made up more rules on their own just to make it all the more difficult for everyone else.
This passage in Matthew is part of the great Sermon on the Mount. I recommend that you stop and take some time to read it in total – chapters 5 through 7 in the book of Matthew. In this sermon, Jesus takes digs at some of the made-up rules that the Pharisees and teachers of the law had set up, and undermines them. Jesus also takes many of those laws under the Old Covenant that God had given, and raises the standards far above any human’s ability to reach or to monitor.
Read over how many times Jesus repeats, “You have heard it said…” in this sermon. He takes the commandments to not murder, or commit adultery, and even to love your neighbor and teaches us that: 1. Avoiding even these major sins is not enough, if you are still harboring anger or lust in your heart, & 2. Even loving your neighbor is not enough, we need to love our enemies too. Jesus does not throw out the commands to not murder and to not commit adultery, nor does He tell us to stop loving our neighbor. He takes these commands to a deeper level in our hearts.
The great news is that Jesus fulfilled all of these commands for us, and He will work within us to change our very hearts. He doesn’t set us up for failure. He takes up the slack and He carries us home.
Let’s go back to the meat and mixed fabrics questions. Why don’t we still keep those? Personally, I tend to look at the question of what commandments under the Old Covenant that we are to continue to keep by asking if the command is an outward law or an inward law? I get this from Matthew chapter 15:
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’* and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’** But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”***
Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
* Exodus 20:12; Deut. 5:16
** Exodus 21:17; Lev. 20:9
*** Isaiah 29:13
[As a side note – anatomically our digestive system is really just a series of tubes – our food doesn’t actually enter our body until it gets digested through the walls of the stomach and intestines. There was a good NPR program about this that I heard earlier this summer. In it I learned how a doctor discovered how food was digested through the open wound in the stomach of a man who had been shot. Very interesting…here’s the link: http://www.radiolab.org/story/197112-guts/]
There are other places where Jesus re-defines things under the New Covenant – on the Sabbath is another one that comes to mind. But I hope the general concept I mentioned is clear here – the New Covenant is one that is concerned with the heart and the mind – not so much what one eats or the type of material one wears in their clothing.
Food was rather a big deal for the new Christians to grasp. The first believers had been Jews all their lives. They had always kept kosher, and didn’t associate with Gentiles. After Stephen had been stoned to death in Jerusalem, many Christians moved to various corners of the Roman Empire. But they only shared about Jesus with other Jews. (With one exception.) By and large, early followers of Jesus saw Him as a specifically Jewish Messiah. Until we get to Acts chapters 10 and 11…and the Gentiles become believers filled with the Holy Spirit, and the kosher laws get set aside. (Hooray for bacon!) Peter does swing back and forth on this, though – he caves to peer pressure in Antioch, which you can read about in the second chapter of Galatians. Ironically, it’s Paul, who had been trained as a Pharisee, who calls Peter out on this.
We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.
Peter realizes his mistake, and comes to take a consistent stand on what the Lord showed him back in Acts ch. 10-11.
The reason I mention this is because I think it’s important to note that the change wasn’t an easy one for most people in the early church to wrap their heads around. Today, however, most Christians just take all of this for granted. Our Christian Gentile history runs a long way back, and very few of us have a personal knowledge of keeping kosher laws. And I think that this distance is part of the reason why we don’t have a quick bumper-sticker answer at the ready for this faulty line of reasoning…that because we aren’t keeping all the archaic laws under the Old Covenant, our faith is somehow made moot, having no significance. And the implication is that all of the commandments are somehow disqualified, except those having to do with loving our neighbor…the Golden Rule.
In reality, that stands pretty close to what Christ calls us to…love is more important than clothing or what we eat. And the Golden Rule does sum up how we are to treat one another. Yet, the Golden Rule isn’t all there is. So often we skip over the rest of what Jesus said as He was talking about what is the greatest commandment:
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Loving God comes first, and He gets to define what it means to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. It means we need to love our enemies, to put our love for God first above all other loves. It means that we learn to love Him with our heart, soul and minds – fully engaged inwardly, not just as an outward show.
Again, Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the outward laws – He lived a life that was holy and without sin, keeping all of those outward commandments for us so that we don’t have to. And through His death and resurrection, He empowers us to live up to the inward laws – the matters of the heart. He helps us to make the choices each day that will shape us to become more like Him, to draw nearer in likeness and in approach to the Holy God.
In the next post, we’ll take a closer look at what Jesus said about homosexuality.