The Purpose for Pastor's Space
We will periodically post items here on current issues and events.
The Vexing Question of Church Discipline
Ever since the Supreme Court made its ruling on the redefining of marriage, churches have been trying to find their footing and coming up with an answer to the question of what to do going forward.
Listening to and reading the dialogue makes me wonder how many people or churches are
taking a biblical look at it, rather than a cultural or emotional look. It should go without saying that a church
should be open to people of all walks of life because we are all sinners.
" For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God"
Yet that hasn’t kept opponents of same sex marriage, especially those doing so from a scriptural perspective, from being called haters, homophobes, or whatever other label they can find.
This article is not an examination of Hillsong, its leadership, its doctrine or its theology.
They are simply the church that is embroiled in a controversy regarding church discipline and openly homosexual individuals serving and participating in church.
What I hope to do in this article is to ask questions and give a biblical response to the controversy.
That being said, biblical marriage is easy to define.
Not to mention that the Bible defines all other unions as immoral.
So it's pretty simple to define and then defend the biblical view in a purely textual manner.
The trouble comes when having a biblical view is explained or enforced in a church setting.
Many pastors and church boards are waiting for the inevitable challenge that
will soon be brought somewhere against a church standing purely on biblical grounds
regarding marriage and marriage ceremonies, in particular.
That is a matter of a now and then event in a church and isn't a day-to-day matter.
However, in the operation and assembly of the church meeting together, what is to be done
with immorality happening in the midst of the assembly? Recently, a story broke about a very large church in New York who had an openly gay couple that was actively serving in their worship ministry.
Given the high profile nature of the church, the pastor and the couple became a topic of much
discussion in church circles. It prompted a response from the flagship church that satisfied many which seems to have people moving on with their lives.
But there is a problem with the response. The answers given were not specific to everyday members not in leadership. And there isn’t a clear indication of where they are going from here. The church where this began (Hillsong NY) has known about this couple for some time and they were involved in openly serving in the church. Now, obviously, each church is free to have whoever it wants to serve, wherever, etc., but biblically there are clear guidelines for leaders.
Some churches take a literal, direct view on such matters, scripturally speaking, while others take a more liberal view. In this case, based on reports, this church and its pastor felt that they were on good ground in saying Jesus never spoke on homosexuality. The video where he stated this is becoming difficult to find as the accounts that had it are now closed, in what seems to be damage control. What have survived are numerous transcripts which do record what was said. The part which caused so much controversy is this:
"Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality,
just like it is today, was widely prevalent, and
I'm still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus
addressed it on the record in front of people.
You won't find it because He never did."
Back to this in a moment, but given that the couple who was being defended have been
open about their relationship for some time, Hillsong can’t plead ignorance, thus the public statements of Lentz’s interview with CNN. Now, such public matters and press appearances created a backlash that brought Hillsong’s flagship church and senior pastor into the fray.
Cutting to the chase, Brian Houston had this to say in the middle of the dust-up:
"Hillsong Church welcomes ALL people but does not affirm all lifestyles.
Put clearly, we do not affirm a gay lifestyle and because of this
we do not knowingly have actively gay people in
positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid.
I recognize this one statement alone is upsetting to people on
both sides of this discussion, which points to the complexity of
the issue for churches all over the world.
I love and accept people on a personal level and if I lived next to
a gay couple I would treat them with the same embrace I would any other
neighbor because - surprise, surprise - not all my neighbors think like me.
Everyone has the right to pursue happiness.
I may totally disagree with you on what will bring people true happiness, and I will
always teach and preach according to my personal convictions and the teachings of scripture,
but I cannot make other people's choices for them - and quite frankly, I don't want to.
That's not my job. Even God created humanity with a free will."
So now to deal with the two statements, one at a time. Let's start with what
Lentz said regarding Jesus and the world in which He lived.
First, in the Israel of Jesus’ time, homosexuality was not “widely prevalent” as his audience was almost exclusively Jewish and homosexuality was not widely practiced as it was in the pagan world that Paul encountered. (Likely why Paul had far more to say on the subject than anyone else.)
As for the second part of Lentz’ statement, if Jesus didn’t single out homosexuality, does that mean that He was okay with homosexuality? He spoke about immorality, didn't he? Are we to assume a man who perfectly kept the Law was indifferent to a practice that the Law states is an abomination? To make the statement he made is exegetical malpractice by someone people refer to as "pastor."
Now, for what Brian Houston had to say.
“We do not knowingly have actively gay people in
positions of leadership, either paid or unpaid.”
That is a biblical stance to take, but there are some follow up questions that should be asked.
First, they cannot serve in leadership, but if they are openly practicing homosexuals, what then?
Are they encouraged to repent and leave the lifestyle?
Now, if they've had that conversation behind closed doors, great!
It just hasn't been disclosed from the reports and statements coming from Hillsong.
With all eyes on Hillsong NY and Australia, what better time to take a
clearly biblical position using the scripture as their authority with no reference to
or influence from the culture.
What we have seen instead are a number of statements,
but the full meaning is left to the eye of the beholder.
Also, has he spoken to Lentz to be sure they are on the same page?
Lentz is, after all, quite the celebrity among the cool, young, hip wing of progressive Christianity.
This is what having a passive view of scripture leads to and also shows how many people
can be satisfied with incomplete answers and half answered platitudes.
One thing is clear, there isn’t church discipline in place at the NY location as scripture requires.
Paul addressed matters of church discipline in 1 Corinthians 5.
In that situation, it was a matter of a young man involved sexually with his step mother.
The Greek for Paul’s description is porneia, from which we get the English word pornography.
This word simply means any illicit sexual act.
Those acts are described in all their disturbing terms throughout scripture.
To spare us all the sad details, the only sexuality which God gives as holy is between
a man and woman in a covenant marriage relationship, before God.
What needs to be said here is what Paul tells the Corinthian church to do in writing to them.
Now, if there is repentance, restore the person(s) (Likely the young man of 1 Corinthians 5)
as Paul tells them in 2 Corinthians 2:6-10:
6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such
a man,7 so that, on the contrary, you ought rather to forgive and comfort
him, lest perhaps such a one be swallowed up with too much sorrow.
8 Therefore I urge you to reaffirm your love to him. 9 For to this end I
also wrote, that I might put you to the test,whether you are obedient
in all things.10 Now, whom you forgive anything, I also forgive.
For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven
that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ,"
Also in Galatians 6:1
"Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who
are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness,
considering yourself lest you also be tempted."
Can there be any other course for sin in their midst? Is Paul heartless and cruel? Hardly!
The Galatians and 2 Corinthians passages are clear as to his compassion.
His concern was for the wellbeing of the church when told them not to
tolerate sin among their members.
"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you,
and such sexual immorality as is not even named among
the Gentiles—that a man has his father’s wife!
2 And you are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that
he who has done this deed might be
taken away from among you.
3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit,
have already judged (as though I were present) him
who has so done this deed.
4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are
gathered together, along with my spirit, with
the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,
5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,
that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.
6 Your glorying is not good.
Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?
7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump,
since you truly are unleavened.
For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us.
8 Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven,
nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness,
but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
9 I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company
with sexually immoral people.
10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people
of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners,
or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.
11 But now I have written to you not to keep company
with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral,
or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard,
or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.
12 For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside?
Do you not judge those who are inside?
13 But those who are outside God judges.
Therefore “put away from yourselves the evil person.”
1 Corinthians 5:1-12
I understand and appreciate that what is written here is difficult for some to take
in or even accept. It is the easier option to look the other way and tell
ourselves that what happens in another church does not matter
to ours or to us personally. That approach would be a mistake, as this will
be the narrative going forward and will be accepted as mainstream.
So, pastors need to decide if what was said speaks for them
and for their churches. If not, we should be able speak for ourselves, and use
God's Word as the only authority.