In an attempt to not merely be critical, but to also offer positive suggestions for a way forward, I offer these 10 alternative statements for men in church leadership to use to review their ministries and church culture to see if they are being biblically faithful in proclaiming the gospel to all, especially to sexual refugees. Feel free to leave a comment below with any suggested edits for improvement.
1. “Your church family meetings include people who have repented and/or are being called to repentance for every sort of sexual sin, e.g. lust, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, effeminacy, crossdressing, pedophilia, incest, bestiality. Loving judicious church discipline is regularly pursued with those who refuse to turn away from sinful actions, lusts, or identities.”
2. “Unbiblical derogatory language or prideful stereo-typing towards sexual sinners would not be tolerated either up-front or in conversation between church family members; biblical language that highlights the shame of various sexual sins is embraced in a spirit of compassion and love.”
3. “All in your church know that we are all fallen and therefore we are tempted to and have committed sexual sin in various ways and all are being encouraged to confess and forsake our own sexual sins. Complete, immediate, and permanent justification by faith alone is clearly proclaimed for all sexual sinners who trust in Christ alone, while recognizing that some sexual sins do more harm and full repentance is more complex for some sins than others.”
4. “Same-sex sexual relationships are routinely mentioned together with other sinful patterns of behavior as is common in the New Testament, while highlighting the forgiveness and sanctification offered to all through faith in Christ crucified.”
5. “All in your church are hearing the same call to radical self-sacrifice of themselves to obey God’s gracious law in response to God’s gracious giving of himself in Jesus.”
6. “All in your church are encouraged to seek and develop an identity founded first and foremost on their union with Christ, resulting in seeing themselves as entirely new creations in Christ, including a new found gratitude for and submission to the biological sex and its attendant assignments which God gave to each one at conception.”
7. “A godly and repentant Christian’s past sexual sin does not automatically disqualify them from exercising their spiritual gifts or serving in leadership in your church, although some past sexual sin clearly does preclude some men from leadership (e.g. polygamy).”
8. “While recognizing and practically supporting the dignity and gift of singleness for certain roles in the Kingdom, marriage is promoted as God’s ordinary calling for most, carefully pastoring those who struggle with sexual sin and temptation toward Christian marriage.”
9. “Church family members instinctively use biblical wisdom to seek out ways to share meals, homes, holidays, festivals, and money with others from different backgrounds and life situations to them in order to lift up the name of Christ and build up the church.”
10. “The gospel is proclaimed clearly: announcing the defeat of all reigning sin in every believer together with a patient, pastoral care summoning every believer to faithfully fight all remaining sin.”
Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash
Moses B says
This is pretty darn good, Pastor Toby. I like how you removed the reference to “sharing…children” that was in the original. Yikes.
Joseph Bayly says
I would recommend replacing “we all experience sexual sin” with “we are all tempted by sexual sin.” That sort of passive language removes our own culpability, which is what is under discussion in the point. We *do* experience the sexual sins of others, but that’s a different matter.
I agree that “experience” seems too passive or neutral even. But I’m also thinking that “tempted” is a little too narrow — since it includes actions, habits, etc. What about “we are all fallen in sexual sin”?
Joseph Bayly says
True. I think “fallen” is a bit ambiguous in this context though. Perhaps “We are all tempted and sin sexually in a variety of ways.”
Joseph Bayly says
Also, “build up of the church” should just be “build up the church”
Thanks for your work on this. Also, a link to the original you are responding to would be helpful. (And in case they modify it, perhaps a PDF of the original in the form you are responding to.)
Good. Thank you, Joseph.
Andrew Lohr says
‘My church,’ ‘your church’…’The church of God that he bought with his blood’ (Acts 20:28). Not wanting to be legalistic about this, we know what you mean, but, uh, how about ‘God’s church’ and the like as a dominant habit? (Thanks to my Church of Christ friend Mack Hunt of blessed memory for pointing this out.)
Thanks, Andrew. Fair point.
Kathleen Ready says
The end of #3, “…while recognizing that some sexual sins do more harm and require more repentance than others.” Pretty sure I get what you’re saying, but I can see how some people might get confused as to your meaning on requiring more repentance. Might be good to insert “more frequent repentance” or “more ongoing repentance”. I think people could think you mean some sexual sins require more apologies to be forgiven. When I was a child, lying was my besetting sin; I had to repent of it more often than others who only fell into lying occasionally, but not be more repentant or sorrier than they because it was a harder struggle to overcome. We had the same amount of guilt, but I just had to get rid of it more times. Am I getting that distinction right?
Fair question, Kathleen. And I agree with what you’ve written. What that line is trying to get at is the fact a man who has been fornicating with other men for years/decades has a lot more repenting to do than a seven year old girl who becomes a Christian in a Christian home. Her besetting sins are just not as complicated and the damage done is a lot less than his sins. That help?
Kathleen Ready says
OK yes, I see now. I think I was only looking at the issue from God’s viewpoint, forgetting for a minute that, temporally, our sins do have different levels of consequences and restoration required. Thanks for clearing that up! And thanks also for writing this and continuing to commit the hate crime of speaking sanely.
Erik Martin says
Number 8 is very dangerous. Nowhere in the Bible is marriage given as the proper fruit of repentance for people who have left lives of homosexual activity or who struggle with same sex attraction. Sometimes marriage is God’s good gift in these situations, but often it is not. Many failed marriages and much pain has resulted from people being told that marriage is God’s will for them when it is actually unwise.
Erik, thanks for the comment. If you require a Bible verse for the exact steps of repentance for every sin, we’re in big trouble since there are many sins we are not given the exact fruits of repentance for. But if we can reason by analogy — see Ephesians 4 for example — I do think the Bible clearly teaches that repentance for those who have embraced unnatural affections (cf. Rom. 1) ought to be a cultivation of “natural affections.” While I agree that doesn’t necessitate heterosexual marriage, I do think it necessitates a careful, prayerful, pastorally-guided pursuit of Christian marriage. Someone who is tempted by or has given into homosexual sin does not have the gift of singleness or celibacy. And Paul says that person should marry. Cheers!
Erik Martin says
Toby, How many people do you know who are in successful marriages who have done so? I’d suggest you try telling that to my ex-wife, she’d differ strongly. Please don’t doom anyone to a disastrous marriage by naively assuming that Paul commands the person who struggles against his or her same sex attraction ought to marry. It is foolish to assume marriage is the answer. Paul himself says that singleness is better though that is not given to all.
Erik, very sorry to hear about your ex-wife. But I would argue that we ought not to look to her as an authority on these issues. I would much rather build on God’s sure word and trust Him to help us sort out our difficult cases. Blessings.
Ken Campbell says
Toby, I don’t think you mean what you have written in number 7.
I think you mean that past sexual sin does not disqualify…
As it stands, the subject of “disqualify” appears to be “repentance”…
Or am I just being a bit dim? (If so, apologies…)
Ken, I think it technically works since “repentance” assumes the best possible outcome for “past sexual sin” — and that truly shouldn’t be an automatic disqualification for serving/ministry. But I’ll mull it over and see if I can come up with anything that’s clearer. Thanks.
Megan Ensor says
Question for you on #7, I know you are referring in part to past homosexual sin as not necessarily disqualifying if it has been repented from, and that makes sense to me, but isn’t there some sexual sin that does in fact, as a consequence, disqualify someone from leadership? For example, infidelity? And does it make a difference if the sexual sin took place before vs. after the person became a Christian? Leaders are held to higher standards. Being disqualified from being an elder is not the same as being put out of the church–many godly Christians don’t meet the qualifications for leadership (women, for example).
I also wondered if on #5 “call to radical self-sacrifice of themselves to obey God’s gracious law” is “self-sacrifice” really the right word here? In the original, I wondered the same thing. Are you referring to putting to death the deeds of the flesh, dying to ourselves? My first thought was, it’s not self-sacrifice to obey God. God’s ways are good, the best for us. We of course make sacrifices of good things for God, but forsaking our sin is not a sacrifice. Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the meaning there.
Thanks, Megan. Good point on #7. I’ll look at it again. On #5, I do think the NT talks about obedience in terms a self-sacrifice, both in terms of dying to ourselves and in terms of offering our lives as a “living sacrifice.” But yes, you are of course right that God’s ways are always good and best for us.
Alex McNeilly says
This is really great, Toby. I’m very glad that you did this.
I’m with Ken on the repentance issue. My suggestion would be as follows: “A godly and repentant Christian’s past sexual sin does not automatically disqualify them from exercising their spiritual gifts or serving in leadership in your church.” Or perhaps: “A godly Christian’s past sexual sin does not automatically disqualify them from exercising their spiritual gifts or serving in leadership in your church, as long as they are walking in repentance from that sin.”
Re: #3 – Like Kathleen, I don’t particularly like the “require more repentance” language. I know what you mean, but it’s not very clear. Here’s a suggestion: “All in your church know that we are all fallen and therefore we are tempted to and have committed sexual sin in various ways and all are being encouraged to confess and forsake *our* own sexual sins, while recognizing that some sexual sins do more harm and that repentance from those sins may be much more involved.” I know that’s not great, but I do think you have to somehow distinguish between repentance in the heart-spiritual sense, and in the temporal sense of appropriate steps which demonstrate that spiritual repentance.
Re: #8 – Your best verse is gonna be 1 Corinthians 7:8–9: “But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” The Apostle Paul clearly prescribes marriage as an aid against the temptation to sexual sin.
Thanks, Alex. I like your suggestions. Let me do some tinkering…
MaryBeth Bratrud says
I still have questions about number #8. I think we can agree there are layers and levels of sexual sin. All sin is twisted/perverted truth, and some sins are worse than others in the sense that they are more twisted and unnatural than others. It would seem that no marriage should be encouraged if there is still serious perversion of mind and desire. Repentance of sin when it comes to unbiblical sexual orientation can often be an ongoing process and depending on how severe a case may be (including homosexuality, but more specifically pedophilia/incest) it may be unwise to encourage them towards christian marriage until there is evident healing (which there may never be). From merely a psychological angle, the perverted sexual desires are often related to a sick and damaged and often traumatized mind. In such cases there may be those who truly desire repentance but may not ever be ready to enter into a biblical marriage. I would love to hear your thoughts about this. Also the verse in 1 Cor. 7 seems to be talking about a right orientation of “burning passion” as the “burning with passion” would be actually satisfied with biblical heterosexual marriage. In some cases, it is not. And it seems that such a person would better continue seeking sexual healing.
MaryBeth, Thanks and sorry for the delay in replying. Yes, I agree with the point about some sins requiring more in-depth repentance and healing before marriage would be prudent. Yet, it still seems to me that repentance still largely looks like “preparing for marriage” — that is, whether or not marriage is ever actualized. Sexual sinners would want to repent “toward” marriage, or at least marriageability, toward being the kind of man or woman who could be a godly husband or wife. With regard to 1 Cor. 7, I’m leery of inserting a distinction between homosexual sin/lust and heterosexual sin/lust. Yes, the former is a greater perversion, but I think the same principle still applies, though as you note, it likely will require more healing/repentance before marriage is advisable. Cheers.
Garrett Kell says
(I posted this on the other post as well, but just in case it was missed there)
I hope you’re well and knowing the Lord’s grace. I don’t believe we’ve met, but either you or someone else tagged me regarding this post. Since we are hosting Ed and Sam’s workshop, I thought I’d at least make a few comments here.
Sam is a brother in Christ, personal friend, and a godly minister of the Gospel. You can listen to this seminar he gave at our church a few years back and I trust you’d find nothing unbiblical in what he teaches. http://delraybaptist.org/resources/seminars/the-gospel-and-same-sex-attraction/
The aim of this audit (which admittedly I generally don’t love audits) and the workshop we are hosting at our church is to help us love brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with SSA issues. Darkness is fuel to the flesh and far too long brothers and sisters in Christ have felt the temptation to conceal these sorts of sexual sins / sinful desires because they have assumed they would be misunderstood and rejected from fellowship.
I find your critiques generally misguided and lacking understanding of people who may struggle with sin in ways you or I do not. To be inclusive (as they define it) is not to be affirming or accepting of sin. It is to learn to imitate Christ who showed no partiality toward sinners. He dined with sinners of all sorts, and praise God He even chooses to dine with you and me.
While we must be on guard against deceitfulness and false teaching that seeks to undermine or erode the Gospel, we must also be humble and willing to ensure that the Gospel is what offends people, not the way we proclaim it.
We have many same-sex attracted members of our church who strive to walk in holiness just as those who do not struggle with that particular sin. We are all sexually broken in one way or another. We must never minimize any sin, but neither ought we target particular sins in ways that the lack compassion, patience, and gentleness that Christ has shown us. I think you are taking shots at the wrong people in this post brother, I’d encourage you to speak with them personally to gain more clarity on what they are actually saying.
Thanks for your time, and may God bless you and yours.
Hi Garrett, I replied more fully on the other post. But I reiterate my invitation to interact with my alternative Review suggestions here. I believe these suggestions capture the heart of reaching out without sacrificing the good and sharp edges of God’s word. What do you think?
Kevin Yount says
With number 7, how would past polygamy automaticly disqualify a repentant person from leadership? I could see where having children across multiple families could preclude that by making it difficult to lead children well, but if someone isn’t in that situation and has put all of the polygamous relationships behind them and pursued peace with their past partners, then either married to one person or being faithfully pastored toward marriage as a faithful single, what would preclude them from leadership?
Kevin, my conviction is that a repentant polygamist would not divorce his multiple wives, since polygamy is a true marriage, while certainly being sub-biblical. And the qualifications for elder clearly require that a man be a husband of “one wife,” automatically disqualifying him from eldership. Of course the death of a second wife and a repentant/godly life for many years might change those circumstances.