What do you do with your sin? You can explain it with science. You can minimize it with sophistication. You can swallow it up with self-talk. Or you can confess it to your Savior.
There are the two radically different schools of thought when it comes to dealing with our imperfections.
One message–the “good news” of the world–tells you: “You own yourself, you engineer yourself, you invent yourself, you discover yourself.” This message screams an absolutely diabolical falsehood. It will not give you the freedom you are looking for. It will not give you peace of mind. It will not give you a clean conscience. It will not give you eternal life.
The second message–the good news of the cross–will give you real freedom. It confesses, “I am not my own. I was bought with a price. I am not in charge. I am not the purpose of my life. I will not find the “true” me. I cannot create a better me. I need a new me.” The gospels promises life, but only through death–Christ’s death first, then yours in his.
Do you want true, lasting comfort for your body and your soul? Do you need what you can’t supply? Are too lost to find yourself? Do you want to cope or do you want to be saved? If you have sin (and we all do), and if you are ready to name it for what it is, call out to God. Do not delay. Weep, wail, plead. See the Son of God crucified in your place. See the Son of Man risen for your justification. Approach the throne of grace in Jesus’ name. God will not turn a deaf ear to an honest cry. A broken and contrite spirit he will not despise.
Run to the cross. There you will find salvation for your sin sick self.
Guest Post: I asked Pat Quinn, our Director of Counseling Ministries, if he had any thoughts on the latest exchange between David Murray and Heath Lambert (both friends of mine) on the topic of mental illness. Pat’s reflections struck me as wise, balanced, and Christ-centered. So I thought it would be good to share them.
Between services last Sunday Kevin briefed me on a recent blog controversy between two men who both care deeply about effective Christian counseling. Heath Lambert, professor of Biblical Counseling at Southern Baptist Seminary and Executive Director of The Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, wrote two recent blogs under the title “Can Jesus Heal Mental Illness?” David Murray, pastor, author (Christians Get Depressed Too), and professor at Puritan Theological Seminary, took strong exception to part two of Lambert’s blog in a blog entitled “Dashed Hopes for Biblical Counseling.” Murray’s response to Lambert highlights ongoing differences between those who identify themselves as biblical counselors and those who would favor more integration between secular psychology and biblical theology.
In Murray’s response to Lambert he asks some good questions for biblical counselors. I would like to briefly respond to some of Murray’s questions in the interest of clarifying the issues and suggesting how one biblical counselor (myself) tries to think through them.
Here are a few of the lines from Lambert that Murray found troubling:
In noting lines like these from Lambert’s blog, Murray asks a number of questions. What follows is my attempt to provide answers. I’ve grouped together some questions that seem related for convenience.
1. Only spiritual issues? No other dimension of understanding? Everything depends on how you define “spiritual issues” here. If “spiritual issues” is defined more narrowly to refer to what we would call the “religious” dimension of life (e.g. we are physical, rational, emotional, relational, and spiritual beings) or to refer to overt sin (e.g. your depression is only to be understood as sin), then Lambert’s statement is reductionistic. But if “spiritual issues” means how we interpret and respond to everything that we experience in God’s world, good or bad—either in faith or unbelief, humility or pride, sacrificial love or self-preoccupation—then Lambert’s statement makes perfect sense.
Another issue here is how we understand the impact of nature and nurture on people.Secular psychology typically makes some combination of nature and nurture determinative—they actually cause our behavior: “Nature loads the gun and nurture pulls the trigger.” Biblical counselors understand nature and nurture to be influential but not determinative. The Confessional Statement of the Biblical Counseling Coalition says, “We recognize the complexity of the relationship between the body and soul (i.e. nature)…the complexity of the relationship between people and their social environment (i.e. nurture).” Biblical counseling would seek to be very attentive to any and all the “other dimensions of understanding” that Murray alludes to. However, biblical counseling would locate the ultimate issues of good and evil, wholeness and brokenness, in the heart—the inner man who desires, thinks, believes, purposes, feels, speaks, and acts either for or against God. In this sense all counseling problems are spiritual problems. Perhaps a better way to refer to mental illness would be that it is ultimately about spiritual issues rather than only about spiritual issues.
2. Atheistic language? Can you explain what is atheistic about it? Murray dislikes Lambert calling the term mental illness “atheistic language.” Perhaps calling it “secular language” would have been less inflammatory, but I believe Lambert is concerned that, once again, secular psychology has no place for God in diagnosing or curing human dysfunctions. Actually, Lambert echoes Paul’s language about godless (atheistic) thinking in Ephesians 4: 17-18 when he refers to “futility of their minds,” darkened understanding,” “ignorance,” and “hardness of heart.” These godless ways of interpreting and responding to life truly characterize many who are diagnosed as mentally ill.
While I don’t believe it’s wrong for biblical counselors to use the term mental illness (after all, we talk about depression all the time and that is a secular term), two points should be made. First, as Lambert said in his blog, it is a very hard term to define. A secular definition would be something like, “mental disorders caused by a medical condition that affect thinking, mood, and behaviors.” These disorders could range from depression to bi-polar disorder to schizophrenia to closed head injuries. The term is vague and elastic and merely descriptive. It is helpful as a general description of troubled thinking, emotions, and behaviors, but it doesn’t really explain the causes. And to imply that all mental disorders are medical conditions is misleading. Second, it is sadly true that behind the idea of mental illness in our psychologized culture is often a functional atheism that removes the God-relational context of all our responses to life.
3. Mental illness is purely about a defective relationship to God that Jesus alone can heal? Jesus alone? No other solution than the gospel? To answer Murray’s questions we need to consider who Jesus is and what the gospel accomplishes. The Bible consistently describes the Messiah as the Ultimate Healer of all that afflicts us.
But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. – Malachi 4: 2
That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.” – Matthew 8: 16-17
…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. – Acts 10: 38
Jesus is also described as the Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9: 6). He is the One who ultimately heals our sick bodies, chemically imbalanced brains, wrong ways of thinking, false beliefs, chaotic emotions, broken relationships, and corrupted environment. So in the ultimate sense it is Jesus alone who heals us. However, biblical counselors affirm and embrace that he uses many different instruments to do his healing work. He uses doctors and medications, counselors and social workers, lawyers and judges, pastors and teachers, and any number of common and saving grace resources.
The gospel of Jesus provides a comprehensive salvation of body (Romans 8: 23-25) and soul (1 Peter 1: 9) that ultimately leads to life in a new heaven and earth free from all “death…mourning, crying or pain” (Revelation 21: 4). It’s important to keep the final state of blessedness in mind because, while it’s true that Jesus heals all our sorrows, sicknesses, and sufferings, we now live in the time of the “already and not yet.” Some troubles will not be healed until the final Day. But they will be healed!
4. No biological component? Ever? No medication? Ever? First of all, I’m not sure Lambert actually said that in his blog. Most responsible biblical counselors would affirm a place for medications in dealing with things like depression. Author and faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation, Ed Welch, spoke to this issue in a post entitled “Can We Be Positive About Psychiatric Medications?”
If medication is helping, even a little, here is what we would say, ‘That’s great.’ If you feel like a spiritual failure because you are taking medication, we would say, ‘No way. Why do you even think that?’ Then we would try to reason how Scripture itself is not giving you a reason to feel like a failure.
The caution biblical counselors would add to what Welch said is that there is a danger that the medication could be given more power than it actually has. Medication can be helpful for treating physical symptoms in things like depression or anxiety but medications cannot transform the heart, empower trust in God, break through hostilities, or impart a “Blessed Hope.” I look at medications as blood-bought graces that can be used wisely in relieving pain. But no medication ever died for our sins, conquered death, or brought about eternal life.
These issues are complex and won’t be resolved through blogs (including this one!). But the issues are important and deserve our best thinking, humblest prayer, and most gracious conversations. I believe a nuanced and robust biblical counseling model and methodology best allow Jesus to bring comprehensive hope and healing to all the brokenness of sin and suffering. I pray this blog shines a small ray of light on the issues.
Most of the crowds in the Gospel of Mark are amazed at Jesus. They don’t necessarily have saving faith, but they constantly marvel at him. They find him fascinating and intriguing.
But not in Nazareth.
Mark 6:3 says the people “took offense at him.” They were scandalized by Jesus because he was this boy they all knew. They knew his family. He was just one of them. So where does he get off acting so high and mighty, behaving like some kind of Messiah?
And so it says in v. 5: “And he could no mighty work there, except that he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them.”
This has often puzzled Christians. Why couldn’t Jesus do many works there? It wasn’t because their lack of faith robbed Jesus of his miraculous mojo. It was because their unbelief acted counter to his primary purpose. He hadn’t come to Nazareth to put on a show. He wasn’t there to be a one man healing clinic. That’s not why he came out. As much as he had compassion on sufferers, he never went into a town just to relieve suffering. When the crowds wanted Jesus to be useful to them and nothing more, he refused to oblige. He cared for people’s physical pain, but he also cared about, and was even more deeply disturbed by, their unbelief.
When we use the language of “compassion” we almost always think of meeting physical needs, but for Jesus teaching was also compassion ministry.
Consider the miraculous feeding of the five thousand. You have all these people listening to Jesus. It’s probably a nationalistic, maybe Zealot, crowd. They are looking for a military Messiah. That’s why John’s gospel says they tried to make Jesus king by force (John 6:15). They were agitated and looking for a leader.
Mark 6:34 says, “When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Jesus is moved with pity because they don’t have a true shepherd to lead them. So what does Jesus do next? What did Christ’s compassion look like in that moment? The verse continues: “And he began to teach them many things.” Do you see the connection? Jesus had compassion on them, so he began to teach. Teaching the crowd was not motivated by something less than compassion.
He came out to preach (Mark 1:38). He left Nazareth when they didn’t want him to preach (Mark 6:1-6). And he taught the crowds when he saw they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a good shepherd. For Jesus, preaching was mercy ministry.
I know it’s Tuesday, but this MMH is worth seeing again, especially at this time of year. Never gets old. The action starts around the 1 minute mark.
I have always been a big sports fan. I got that from my dad, saw it in my grandfathers, and found it in all my friends. Now I’m passing it on to my sons. Chicago-born, I’ve been a lifelong Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks, and Sox fan. The rest of the extended DeYoung clan roots for the Cubs, but my dad had the good sense to switch loyalties with the Go-Go Sox of ’59, and now I’ll be a Sox fan for life. Likely my boys will be too, though they’ve grown up exclusively in Michigan and never lived a day in Illinois. I feel for them, taking the same road I did: living in Michigan and rooting for Chicago. I hated the Bad Boys, and my sons are learning to be righteously annoyed with the Tigers. Enmity is unspiritual in the rest of life, but not in sports. It’s a sign of respect reserved for perennial powerhouses. Nobody hates the Jacksonville Jaguars.
This week marks the beginning of baseball, for 150 years, our national pastime. Football may be the king of revenue and ratings, March Madness may be the most enjoyable three weeks of sports, the NHL may be the obsession north of the border, and the NBA may have bigger star power, but there is still no sport in this country better than baseball. I will never forget the ’85 Bears or MJ and the Bulls during the 90s. It’s been fun to watch the Blackhawks succeed in the last few seasons, and the longer I live in East Lansing the more I bleed green and white. But if I had just one sporting event to watch in person sometime in my life it would be a World Series game with the White Sox. Preferably a Game Seven winner, but I don’t want to be picky.
I know the many knocks on baseball: The games are too slow. The season is too long. The contracts are too big. I know about steroids and strike-shortened seasons. I know the players chew and spit and adjust themselves too much. I know every pitcher except for Mark Buerhle takes too much time in between pitches. I know that purists hate the DH rule and almost everyone hates the Yankees. I understand if baseball is not your thing. You don’t have to like our national pastime.
But you should.
I’ve taken my older kids to basketball games and football games–terrific experiences. But it’s not like your first baseball game: the wide open and immaculately kept spaces of green, the sharp diamond perfectly groomed, the organ bellowing out a kitschy tune. People sing the national anthem louder at baseball games. The hot dogs are better too. At most parks you can find seats cheap enough for families. And when you’re there, you’ll see an old man sitting by himself with a scorecard, just like he’s done for 40 years.
Baseball is unique in the pantheon of professional American sports. It’s the only one where time doesn’t end your game. It’s the only one where offense and defense are totally compartmentalized. And it’s the only sport that actually works on radio. Have you ever tried listening to football on the radio. It’s better than nothing, but you can’t picture the action. You only get updates as the action unfolds. It’s the same with basketball and hockey. There’s a lot of energy, but it’s too much to see in your head. Baseball, on the other hand, is the perfect sport for radio. It’s slow and it’s routine. You can picture a backdoor slider in your head. You know what a sharp single to right looks like. You can see the ball sailing deep into center field in a way you could never see a run up the middle on radio.
I love football, but I love baseball more because it’s football’s complete opposite. It’s pastoral instead of militant. You can get your first chance at 27, instead of being finished at 26. Every game doesn’t matter. The season stretches across three seasons instead of just one. Its pace is deliberate. The drama is subtle. The celebrations are understated. In football, every play is punctuated with some choreographed gesticulation. In baseball, the players honor the shortstop’s diving catch by throwing the ball to each other.
Baseball is the only sport where the players are not only doing things normal people can’t do nearly as well, they’re doing things normal people can’t do at all. I can make a basket. I can throw and catch a football. I can kick a soccer ball. I can’t hit Verlander’s fast ball (let alone his filthy curve). Baseball is more like real life where you fail more than you succeed. Two made shots a night in basketball means your terrible. Two hits per night in baseball makes you a legend.
Baseball has the best stats, the best trading cards, the best box scores, and the best announcers. Of the four major sports in America it’s the one with the smallest gap between the best teams and the worst teams. It’s the one where the regular season matters most. It’s the one sport that has the best season of the year all to itself. They’re not called the Boys of Summer for nothing.
Baseball lends itself to the best sports writing and the best sports movies. It has the richest history and the most romantic mythology. It’s the only sport that allows the fans the pleasure of seeing the umpires publicly berated. It has the most prestigious hall of fame. It has the most grueling minor leagues, where you can chase your dreams for ten years after school if you are willing to ride the bus. It has the best stadiums, where the dimensions are always different and the speed of the grass and the size of the foul territory determines the type of team you build.
More than any other sport, baseball is a companion. That’s why fans grow to love their announcers. For the past few years, I’ve listened to the majority of Sox games over the summer. I don’t often listen or watch an entire game, and I certainly can’t catch all 162 of them. But if I’m driving or mowing the lawn , paying the bills, or puttzing around the house, I’ll find a way to tune in. And if they lose, it’s no big deal. It’s not like the BCS is on the line every game. The Sox can lose five in a row or stink up the place for two months and still end up on top. It’s a long season. It’s a slow season. It’s a game of strategy and finely-honed skill more than brute force and raw athleticism. It’s everything fans aren’t supposed to want in their sports anymore.
Which makes it just perfect.
This post appeared last year on opening day. It will probably show up next year too.
I hope you have the patience for a final post on the World Vision controversy. I’ll try to be brief. As you know, World Vision announced yesterday that they were reversing their decision to hire gays and lesbians in legal marriages. Richard Stearns and the board apologized for their mistake, the division they caused, and asked their supporters for renewed trust and forgiveness.
So what can we learn from this mess? Three brief reflections.
First, we should give credit where credit is due. It’s incredibly hard for any of us to admit our mistakes, let alone for a billion dollar organization to publicly admit theirs. While I still have plenty of questions I would ask if I were a World Vision insider (which I’m not), I think it is the better part of charity in this instance to take the humble, heartfelt statement from Stearns and World Vision at face value. They put themselves in an incredibly difficult situation. In reversing their decision they’ve angered a whole different group of people. We should commend them for listening to wise counselors, reconsidering who they are, realizing their mistake, and making it right.
Furthermore, it should not be assumed this was a decision driven by money. Stearns never mentioned money in the original decision and never mentioned money in this reversal. There are liberal Christians with deep pockets too. For all we know, the loss of support from evangelicals could have been made up from foundations and corporations. World Vision made an unpopular decision in announcing the new policy on Monday, and then, seeing their gigantic misstep, they made an unpopular decision in going back to the old policy on Wednesday. Good for them.
Second, this episode shows the need for church leaders, organizational presidents, and institutional board members who are theologically robust. Especially in today’s cultural climate, the evangelical world needs leaders who are biblically rooted and doctrinally discerning. I can think of a number of evangelical institutions in recent years which started to run aground because they went away, not so much from a specific doctrine, but from a doctrinal-informed and doctrinally-driven leadership altogether. A true living and breathing theology cannot be peripheral to our decision making. Biblical thinking and Christian conviction must define our mission not be subordinate to it.
Third, we should be prepared for these issues to surface again. Try as we might–or even if we hide away and wait for the unicorn of consensus to gallop across the evangelical landscape–the pain and confusion and controversy surrounding homosexuality is not going away. Sadly, we can expect key leaders, church, institutions, and organizations, to blow with the cultural winds on this issue. Realignment and reassessment are sure to come. Our call, therefore, is to be faithful, be biblical, be bold, be wise, be winsome, be loving, and beat the rhythms of worship and prayer until we find ourselves happy and holy in Jesus.
I don’t relish writing about the same thing over and over (especially in light of World Vision’s stunning and humble reversal of their two day-old hiring policy). Believe me, if there were never the need to talk about homosexuality again, no one would cheer louder than me. But that’s not the world we live in. So here’s one more post.
I received an email yesterday afternoon to this effect: Could someone please give a short, simple explanation as to why the issue of homosexuality is not like Christians differing on baptism or the millennium? Many Christians are willing to say homosexuality is wrong, but they’d rather not argue about it. Why not broker an “agree to disagree” compromise? Why can’t we be “together for the gospel” despite our differing views on gay marriage? Why is this issue any different?
1. Approving of homosexual behavior violates the catholicity of the church. Sure, many in the West are arguing for the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, but for 99.9% of our history the church has considered homosexual behavior to be sinful. (And before anyone mentions slavery at this point I would encourage him to read Rodney Stark’s book For the Glory of God where he debunks the myth that the church was pro-slavery for 1800 years.) No one had to write a confession about homosexuality, because it was an implied status confessionis issue. No church would have tolerated a difference of opinion, let alone a deviant practice.
True, church tradition is not infallible. But when we make a decision (accepting homosexuality or tolerating those who do) that virtually every single Christian who has ever lived would consider unthinkable, we ought to pause and wonder if we’ve drunk too much from the spirit of the age. We would be wiser to listen to the testimony of our brothers and sisters in the two-thirds world who know that homosexuality is not an agree-to-disagree kind of issue.
2. Homosexual behavior is so repeatedly and clearly forbidden in Scripture that to encourage homosexuality calls into question the role of Scripture in the life of the denomination that accepts such blatantly unbiblical teaching. The order of creation informs us that God’s plan for sexuality is one woman and one man (Genesis 2). This order is reaffirmed by Jesus (Matthew 19) and Paul (Ephesians 5). The Old Testament law forbade homosexual behavior (Leviticus 18, 20). Paul reiterates this prohibition by using the same Greek construction in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. Paul condemns same sex behavior (among many other sins) in Romans 1. Jude in his epistle links sexual immorality and the “unnatural desire” present in Sodom and Gomorrah.
The evidence is so overwhelming that Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament scholar and advocate of legitimizing homosexual behavior, argues rather candidly: “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.” At its root, support for homosexual behavior is not simply a different interpretation of Scripture; it is a rejection of Scripture itself.
3. Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser “ethical issue”, the New Testament sees it as a matter for discipline (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Corinthians 6:12-20), and an example of perverse compromise (Jude 3-16).
4. Most importantly, commending homosexuality involves the core of the gospel because it urges us to celebrate a behavior of which the Bible calls us to repent. According to 1 Corinthians 6 unrepentant homosexuals (along with unrepentant thieves, drunkards, idolaters, adulterers, revilers, swindlers, and money-lovers) will not inherit the kingdom of God. Heaven and hell literally hang in the balance.
Of course, homosexuality isn’t the only sin in the world. But I know of no Christian leader or Christian community promoting theft or championing idolatry as a special blessing from God. It is not an overstatement to say solemnizing same-sex intercourse is in danger of leading people to hell. The same is not true when it comes to sorting out the millennium. In tolerating the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people farther from God, not closer. This is not the mission Jesus gave us when he told us to teach the nations all that he has commanded.
In short, those who pervert the grace of God into a license for sensuality are false teachers who do not preach the gospel rightly (Jude 4; Titus 2:11-15). A true church does not encourage people in deliberate sin when it ought to call them to repentance.
I’ve already written at length on why I think World Vision’s new hiring policy is a profound mistake. I won’t rehash those arguments here. But I want to briefly respond to a couple of points that keep surfacing–points that can appear more persuasive than they really are.
Poor Argument #1: How can you let children starve just because you don’t agree with gay marriage?!
This line of reasoning packs an emotional punch. Who wants to be the Levite who refuses to cross the road to help the sick and dying just because a gay couple wants to help the battered man too? Ouch. Sounds terrible. But the argument is much less than meets the eye.
It assumes that sending money to or through World Vision is the only way to help the poor. The situation is not analogous to the parable of the Good Samaritan. Or if it is, it’s like the Samaritan hears about people in Spain suffering from famine and there are seven different ships sailing to Spain to deliver relief and he has to decide on which ship to place his grain.
The argument assumes that as long as a person or organization aims to help the needy every other consideration is irrelevant and inappropriate. But what if Samaritan’s Purse had announced on Monday that it was now was open to hiring polygamists or racists or sex offenders or members from Westboro Baptist, do we really think the progressive wing of the church would be as strictly utilitarian then?
The argument assumes that the critics of World Vision are themselves indifferent to the suffering of others. To be sure, not everyone reduces the argument to this ad hominen level. But some do, as if people like Justin Taylor, Russell Moore, and Trevin Wax have never done anything for orphans in their lives. Meet their families. Read their bios.
The argument assumes too much. If the needs of hungry children justify the acceptance of homosexual behavior as consistent with Christian witness, why disallow adulterers from being hired? Why insist on Trinitarian Christianity? Are we so overcome with Mormonophobia that we wouldn’t help the bloody man on the Jericho Road just because Mormons want to help him too? World Vision is a Christian organization which insists on certain Christian beliefs and Christian behaviors in its employees. If we are all utilitarians in the strictest sense, we ought to have been outraged with World Vision a long time ago.
The argument assumes that maintaining its Christian identity is ancillary to the real mission of World Vision. If gay marriage is good, let it be said so. Then what we are really arguing about will be clear. But if a Christian believes same-sex intercourse is not fitting behavior for the holy ones of the Holy One, then it makes sense that he would see the tacit support of gay marriage to be deeply subversive to the Christian identity of World Vision, so much so that he may choose to support another organization which more fully embraces Christian principles.
Poor Argument #2: Isn’t it best not to take sides since the church has not reached consensus on the issue of homosexuality?
This train of thought contains a kernel of truth. On some issues it is the better part of wisdom to draw a line in the sand at refusing to draw lines in the sand. Sometimes when faced with committing to the run or committing the pass, we punt instead. But as a general principle the “we can’t decide what is biblical without consensus” argument is absolutely disastrous.
On what point of theology do professing Christians everywhere in the world agree? You can find churches, scholars, and pastors who support abortion and others who oppose abortion, some who believe the prosperity gospel is good and others who believe it is wicked, those who believe the bodily resurrection of Christ is essential to the faith and others who believe the resurrection is only a powerful spiritual metaphor. There is not one point of World Vision’s statement of core values or behavioral hiring policy that some Christian and some church would not dispute.
Okay, you say, but those are extreme examples. Obviously, we aren’t talking about anything goes. We must walk in the way of the Great Tradition. That’s what really matters–the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, Chalcedon, that sort of stuff.
And what sort of consensus was there at time of Nicea? Arius was a sincere person. Arius had Bible verses. Arius had a following. We are happy to use the Nicene Creed as a means of stating our consensus, but the creed was first necessary because there was not complete consensus. Every creed and confession in the Great Tradition arose out of some controversy. If the church must steadfastly refuse to take sides every time professing Christians read their Bibles differently, then shame on Augustine for combating Pelagianism, shame on Chalcedon for getting hung up on definitions, shame on Athanasius for wasting his life contra mundum for a diphthong.
Of course, it may be argued that homosexuality is not nearly so important as those issues. But given 2,000 years of pretty darn near unanimous consensus on the sinfulness of same-sex intercourse, this is a point that must be proven, not merely sidestepped because that consensus has been fractured in the West. Everything in the New Testament–from Paul’s farewell to Ephesian elders to the pastoral epistles to Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Asia Minor–suggests that within the church there will always be those who oppose the truth.
In the church.
As in, no universal consensus among those who profess to be Christians.
The task, then, of the Scripture-saturated, Spirit-filled, heaven-smelling, holiness-pursuing, righteousness-loving, grace-offering church is to discern the truth, rightly handle the word of truth, and stand as a pillar and buttress of the truth, so that the sheep are protected, the wolves are warned, and the darkness is exposed by the light. On issues of eternal significance–the kind the devil loves to confuse–to wait for consensus is not compassion; it is capitulation.
J. Gresham Machen:
Again, we are told that our theological differences will disappear is we will just get down on our knees together in prayer. Well, I can only say about that kind of prayer, which is indifferent to the question whether the gospel is true or false, that it is not Christian prayer; it is bowing down in the house of Rimmon. God save us from it!
Instead may God lead us to the kind of prayer in which, recognizing the dreadful condition of the visible church, recognizing the unbelief and the sin which dominate it today, we who are opposed to the current of the age both in the world and in the church, facing the facts as they are, lay those facts before God, as Hezekiah laid before him the threatening letter of the Assyrian enemy, and humbly ask him to give the answer.
Again, many say that instead of engaging in controversy in the church, we ought to pray to God for a revival; instead of polemics, we ought to have evangelism. Well, what kind of revival do you think that will be? What sort of evangelism is it that is indifferent to the question what evangel is it that is to be preached? Not a revival in the New Testament sense, not the evangelism that Paul meant when he said, “Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.”
No, my friends, there can be no true evangelism which makes common cause with the enemies of the cross of Christ. Souls will hardly be saved unless the evangelists can say with Paul: “If we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel than that which we preached unto you, let him be accursed!”
Every true revival is born in controversy, and leads to more controversy. That has been true ever since our Lord said that he came not to bring peace upon the earth but a sword.
And do you know what I think will happen when God sends a new reformation upon the church? We cannot tell when that blessed day will come. But when the blessed day does come, I think we can say at least one result that it will bring. We shall hear nothing on that day about the evils of controversy in the church. All that will be swept away as with a mighty flood. A man who is on fire with a message never talks in that wretched, feeble way, but proclaims the truth joyously and fearlessly, in the presence of every high thing that is lifted up against the gospel of Christ. (J. Gresham Machen, Selected Shorter Writings, 147-148)