Dump The Doctrine?

Burning Question:  Why do some churches get so wrapped up in “doctrine” issues, such as women in church, drinking alcohol, food restrictions, etc.?  It seems to create unnecessary division when we should be united as believers in Christ, not personal application.

Historically, believers and churches can easily become sidetracked and lose sight of those things that are of greatest importance.  We sometimes major on the minors and minor on the majors, if you know what I mean.

If we replace the word “doctrine” with the word “truth”, the above question is a bit easier to handle.  The reason for this is because God’s Word is our source of truth and, therefore, determines the doctrines that should govern our daily lives.  Churches should be “wrapped up” in truth . . . proclaiming truth, living by the truth, encouraging others to live by truth, contending for the truth, holding fast to the truth.  Well, you get the idea!

Where things get a bit difficult is when God’s truth allows for some variance as to how that truth is lived out.  When we hold fast to a specific application of God’s truth that Scripture doesn’t necessarily hold to, then we can easily cross the line into legalism.  As an example, you may hold to the conviction that playing cards is a sin based on your understanding of a specific Scripture, let’s say Ephesians 5:11.  For you, your conviction would be based on “doctrine” or “truth”.  However, I would not share your conviction as I see no issue with merely playing cards for fun and my application of that passage would be different.  For you to expect me to apply that verse to my life in the same way that you apply it, when the verse obviously allows for flexibility in its application, would be legalistic.

There are certain dangers and cautions for churches regarding “doctrine” or truth.  First, we must be willing to stand on truth whenever it is conveyed in Scripture.  Second, where Scripture allows a variety of applications for that truth, we must not hold others to our personal application alone, lest we become legalistic.  Third, we must guard against serving the “rules” above serving the Lord.  God’s truth is conveyed against the backdrop of our relationship with Him.  Abiding in His truth enables us to enjoy deep fellowship with Him.  Remember, Jesus describes Himself as Truth in John 14:6. Last, we must never sacrifice truth for the sake of unity.  Many churches in our day have amazing unity but no message, no effectiveness, and no life because they have watered down or replaced the truth of God’s Word that exists to give us life.

Paul encouraged Timothy to teach sound doctrine and warned Timothy against false doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6, 1 Timothy 6:3-5).  In his second letter to Timothy, Paul gives one of the best admonitions to proclaim truth while also laying out one of the best warnings of what happens when we don’t (2 Timothy 4:2-4).  We as believers and churches will be all the better for understanding when Scripture allows for a variety of applications and when we must stand on truth regardless of the cost.

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Homosexuality And The Church

English: A fork in the road Which way should i go?

Burning Question:  Why are we not more welcoming and loving towards gay Christians and non-Christians?

Burning Question:  The homosexual lifestyle and pressure to “accept” it by the mainstream media is more prevalent than ever.  How does the church take a stand against this sin in love while overcoming the labels of being “judgmental”, “bigoted”, and “non-progressive”?  Is it even possible?

These questions were turned in anonymously as part of our Burning Questions message series recently.  Though turned in anonymously by design, they reflect true “burning questions” as the church and Christians today seek to find the balance between the truth of God and love for others.

Sadly, the church has badly lost this balance in many ways regarding this topic. One way has been by becoming strangely mute regarding even speaking to this subject.  Another way has been by attempting to move the boundary lines placed by God in the Bible as they relate to sexual morality.  Yet another way has been to unlovingly spew Bible-laced venom upon anyone who has chosen the homosexual lifestyle at all.

What makes this discussion so difficult is that there are different “camps” represented within the discussion on homosexuality.  One camp sees the issue from the perspective of civil rights, political platform, and social advancement.  This perspective is often easily heard because of the loud voices of those who have chosen this lifestyle (in fact, it’s often presented as a lifestyle that’s not chosen at all but has rather been forced upon one in their creative design).  At times, some within the homosexual community will also seek to join their lifestyle to a walk with Christ.  It is not difficult to find churches who seek to find harmony between a person’s homosexual lifestyle and a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Another camp is less vocal, often even silent.  Their  perspective of the issue is of one who silently suffers in guilt, confusion, and embarrassment due to their same-sex attraction.   Often there are peripheral issues that contributed to their same-sex attraction which are difficult to navigate in their own light . . . childhood abuse or neglect, absentee fathers, and others.

Rather than to turn this post into pages and pages of material addressing the variety of arguments concerning the homosexual lifestyle, let me simply seek to address the questions above.  To be clear, my conviction is that the Bible clarifies that the lifestyle of homosexuality is sin, however, the temptation to live that lifestyle is not.  It is here that one could find a number of biblical passages that address the homosexual lifestyle as a sinful lifestyle.  Romans 1:18-32, for example, depicts homosexuality in this light, along with a number of other vices that heterosexuals themselves also engage in.  We must remember that as Creator, God has all right to declare what is right and what is wrong and that living outside of His parameters of right-ness brings tremendous consequences to our lives.  Again, being tempted with same-sex attraction is no more sinful than another’s temptation to lust, or overeat, or punch out their boss on a bad Monday.  But according to the Bible, the choice to act on that temptation and to engage in homosexual behavior constitutes sin.  Sin that can be forgiven and washed away, but sin nonetheless.

So why are Christians not more welcoming and loving towards “gay Christians and non-Christians?”  Perhaps it is because of self-righteousness in that we have lost sight of our bankruptcy before God without Christ as our Lord.  Perhaps it is because of our weakness in that we are too concerned about how our peers will view us if we actually demonstrate love with no strings attached toward this segment of our culture.  Regardless of why, it is simply wrong for anyone who has been forgiven of their sins by Christ and has been re-defined as a “Christian” to hold back love from someone for whom Christ died.

However, it is important that I clarify something here.  Though the church has not always responded well in facing this issue, there is a point where the homosexual community has also fallen short in its response toward its detractors.  Simply because a Christian considers homosexuality as sin does not necessarily mean that the Christian is unloving, unwelcoming, or is a homophobe.  Our media today loves to categorize anyone who disagrees with the homosexual lifestyle as a homophobe, or even a hater of homosexuals, and this is just not always accurate.  Just because I may disagree with your choice to eat collard greens doesn’t make me a collard-green-eater-phobe . . . I am not afraid of you and I do not hate you and I don’t aim to avoid you at all costs.  No, I just don’t want to eat your collard greens!  In other words, can we just lay aside the rhetoric and have grown-up conversations about all of this?

So how does the church take a stand for truth and consider homosexuality to be outside the boundaries of God’s design without appearing judgmental or bigoted?  By remembering that our sin cost Jesus exactly the same to make us right with God . . . His death.  By remembering that a person is rarely reached by shouting at them but by engaging them in friendship and dialogue, which often only occur over extended periods of committed time.  By remembering that it is not our place to condemn or to judge but to merely announce the truth of the Gospel that liberates all who come to Him on His terms.  By remembering that Christ met us where we were with such amazing love, despite our sin, and that He desires us to reach out in that same manner to others.  And by remembering that some will choose to characterize us as hate-mongers no matter how genuinely we care about them, simply because of the message we proclaim.

Watering down God’s truth is not an option to be considered because it’s His truth that sets people free.  As Martin Luther said approximately 500 years ago, “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the Devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.  Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”

May the church and every Christian within it be certain that we stand on God’s truth with boldness, regardless of the cost.  But may we also proclaim that message with compassion, humility, and grace, as well.  The shining hope in it all is that God does still forgive sin when we come to Christ in repentance and faith (Acts 20:18-21).  And praise God, He does still transform and re-define the life that finds forgiveness in Christ, changing us from what we once were to washed, sanctified, and justified saints regardless of the specifics of our past sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).