Tag Archives: homosexuality

The Unseen Wrath of God (Divine Justice in a Culture of Miscreants)

underwater-jesusI’m not a Christian fundamentalist. I’m not a conservative fundamentalist or a progressive (liberal) fundamentalist. I try to be very intentional about that. I increasingly see the problems with the attitudes and biblical interpretations of both my conservative and progressive brothers and sisters on a range of theological and political issues.

I survey my Facebook newsfeed and see the stuff coming from my conservative and progressive friends and I’m like, “Say what? Huh? Seriously? You believe that? Are you reading your Bible? What about this other verse? Jesus said more than that. C’mon, really?” (facepalm)  Jesus, where are you in this mess?

I’m active, but I’m not a hipster activist. I don’t think I have to weigh in publicly on every hot button social issue. I don’t think my opinion is that important, nor do I think it matters as much as my ego would have me believe some days. I don’t want to add to the noise. (sigh) Really, I don’t.

One of the reasons I continue to blog, for now, is that people tell me all the time how I write what they feel but have trouble expressing. So it appears that I’m connecting with an overlooked audience. If I can be a voice for the voiceless and encourage others, I’ll keep sharing my views via the blogosphere.

It’s unfortunate that the voices in the middle often get drowned out in the debates between polarizing extremes. The pendulum swings back and forth, and I’d like to think I see this happening most of the time. I’m trying.

My sincere desire is to help call us back to the center.

While I often question the effectiveness of posting anything to the web, especially on social media, I do feel that I have a responsibility as a pastor to people and a teacher of the Scriptures to bring clarity, if possible, in an effort to encourage and challenge the church where I see it’s needed, knowing full well that it’s the Spirit that changes us. I’m just a conduit of God’s grace.

For me, that often means addressing neglected or misrepresented theological and biblical issues, even if it’s a bit risky in doing so. I think it comes with the pastoral territory. It’s also part of the prophetic ministry.

We’re looking for faithful followers of Christ, not nice comfy fans.

God Doesn’t Freak Out, But He Is Concerned

In response to the recent SCOTUS decision in favor of same-sex marriage, the progressive blogger Benjamin Corey posted on how God isn’t freaking out.

It’s clear that Corey is trying to challenge the conservative fundamentalists who think God’s wrath is about to be unleashed, as if all of the other American atrocities haven’t been enough to trigger it. He makes an excellent point.

It’s true. God looks like Jesus, not Zeus.

I’ve sat down face-to-face and listened to Corey’s heart for the church at a joint in PA. He is an extremely nice guy. That doesn’t always come through on his blog. While I don’t agree with all of his positions, like celebrating the SCOTUS decision as progress, I’d like to simply respond to what I sense is the theological pendulum swinging too far to the left to make his point.

In this case, you might read Corey’s post, and others like it, as saying Jesus has done away with wrath altogether (i.e. if it hasn’t come yet, it never will). Maybe he doesn’t think that, but you could be led to believe it. So let me respond to the biblical “wrath” idea, because I think it’s too often misunderstood.

To be clear, this isn’t about my brother, Ben. It’s about the biblical concept of wrath. Please allow me to challenge the thinking that there is no such thing.

The Way Wrath Really Works

Regardless of what you think about the SCOTUS decision, I’d like to try and bring some clarity and balance as it pertains to God’s wrath, in light of Christ and the NT. For what it’s worth, here is how I understand it.

Jesus’ central message was about the coming Kingdom–salvation of sinners, release for the captives, sight for the blind, the year of favor and blessing (Matt 4:17; Lk 4:14-20). He didn’t come to condemn the world, but to save it, welcoming all those who would believe (Jn 3:16-17). Good news, right?

He showed outrageous love and mercy to the worst of the Jewish community, and taught us to do the same for Romans (Gentiles). God then extends his agape fellowship to the whole world–initiated with Abraham, made evident in Jesus, to be lived out by his church. That’s the story in a nutshell.

As so far as he is quoted in the gospels, the Jewish Jesus reserves judgment and “wrath” language for Jewish religious skeptics and hypocrites (Matt 23:13; Lk 10:13). This ought to be sobering for all of us who count ourselves among the “chosen” and elect of God. His harshest words are for the religious.

But did you catch that? Jesus’ primary audience was Jewish. He even said that his ministry was to the children of Israel (Matt 15:23). So, Jesus isn’t interacting much with Gentiles, certainly not with all of the particular vices common among them, including homosexuality.

Yes, that’s why, “Jesus doesn’t say a word about it.” It wasn’t an issue among religious Jews. It was clear and settled for them. But he did talk about the original design for sexuality and marriage (Matt 19:1-12), and its eschatological trajectory (Mk 12:25). It’s his Kingdom effect on human sexuality.

Jesus referred back to what God intended before the Law, allowances, concessions, and “no fault” divorce, before humanity brought on confusion caused by rebelling against the good order of God, and then he pointed us forward. It’s his love his way that truly wins.

Now back to wrath.

Jesus said some tough things that are not politically correct, nor do they sit well with our individualistic, post-modern, nice, therapeutic, new-age spirituality that’s so prevalent today. Have we really accepted this? He said there will be sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46). At the end of human history, some will be turned away for not being true followers (Matt 7:22-23).

I’d call that “wrath.”  This is Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s deal with it.

The OT presented shadows of God. Christ in the NT is the reality (Col 2:17). We know what God is really like by looking long and hard at this Jesus—the Jesus who does warn of a final judgment. There’s no way around it, folks.

And we can’t leave out John’s depiction of Jesus in Revelation. Here we have an apocalyptic vision of Jesus judging the nations by the power of his word (Rev 19:15). He merely sorts it all out in the end by the word of his mouth.

In the meantime, something that often goes “unseen” is happening to evildoers.

Let’s consider Paul’s words about “wrath” in Romans 1:18-32. Look at verses 18 and 24. How does Paul describe God’s wrath in his context?

Paul, apostle to the Gentiles, writes, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness…” (v.18) and a few verses later says, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts…” (v.24 – italics mine).

Paul says wrath is indeed being revealed. How is this happening?

According to Jesus and Paul, it’s built into the very system of creation and fall. Wrath is revealed as people get their way and do their own thing to the point of consequence. No fireballs from heaven. No divine warrior or butt-kicking stuff. Just sowing and reaping.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Paul, Gal 6:-7-8).

Greg Boyd describes it as God’s “boomerang justice” or us getting what is coming to us. Hindus call it karma, the Scripture calls it wrath. It’s the great cosmic equalizer. It’s God’s universe correcting itself.

Therefore, Paul can say that God gives people over to their sin in order to experience the natural consequences of exchanging the glory of God for lies of the devil and the flesh. He means to say that indulging in and celebrating sinful behaviors as a society and culture is in and of itself revealing (in time) the wrath of God. We sow the wind, we reap the whirlwind (Hos 8:7).

The wrath doesn’t always come immediately, it comes slowly and is perpetuated by more evil that in time brings about hell on earth—chaos, destruction, and ultimately death. Whether it be slavery or sexual licentiousness, if not repented of, it leads to more evil. The “wrath” that follows is part of God’s divine program, if you will, coded into his good creation, working to self-correct.

We call it “God’s wrath” because it’s his holy programming, his divine laws, his order to the cosmos. He wired it that way, so he takes full responsibility.

An Invitation to Enter Grace

God’s grace to us is that Jesus absorbs the wrath of the system that we violated. The full consequences of our sin have fallen on him, because he chose it. He took our sins to the cross, then the grave, and set us free in his resurrection triumph. We broke his world, but he is fixing it.

The NT does not teach that we’re being saved from God, as if the Father is someone other than the Son revealed in Jesus (Jn 14:9), but instead from the wrath we essentially store up for ourselves as a result of our own rebellion against the Creator of everything, who knows better than we do.

Therefore, the invitation is to come into this Christ, to be safe and secure from all alarm, and to join him as agents of new creation. This is what God’s grace affords us! We weren’t meant to be objects of wrath, but persons of his love and affection. We were made in his image to reflect his glory into the earth, and then back to himself in worship and holy living.

To my conservative friends, if we take Jesus seriously, we need to see that God is not going after anyone with bloodthirsty vengeance. And to my progressive friends, you’re right to speak that message, but please don’t gloss over passages that bother you. To suggest such a thing is to remove any need for repentance, discipleship, and the gift we have in Christ. Let Jesus be Jesus.

Finally, I thank God for his grace received through repentance, the only way to escape the wrath we all deserve. For followers of Christ, that “wrath” meets grace and is experienced as loving discipline. For all scoffers in the culture who spurn God’s good will for human flourishing, his love will in time no doubt be experienced as wrath, in one form or another.

As long as we’re alive we can know for sure that there is hope for all of us miscreants, in this life and the next. I pray that we all will step into that costly grace and find the peace that the church and the world so desperately needs.

Shalom.

D.D. Flowers, 2015.

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Seeking Christian Unity

NOTE: This post should be read as a follow-up to my last post, On Christian Community, Diversity & Equality.

As my faithful readers know, I recently began pastoring Christiansburg Mennonite Fellowship in Southwest Virginia. My first month has been a great experience. We love our church. We’re getting settled in and planning for the year ahead. Thank you for your prayers and support.

I’m currently in the middle of a sermon series entitled Anabaptism 101. To use Stuart Murray’s language from his book, The Naked Anabaptist, we are covering the “bare essentials” of the Anabaptist tradition.

You can “LIKE” and listen to the sermons at CMF’s Facebook page if you’re interested. The series will eventually be archived at our new website.

In the first message (“Beginning of a Movement”) I cover a lot of history in about 40 minutes. I begin with the NT/early church and then talk about the merging of church and state with the emperor Constantine in the 4th century. From there I go on to describe the situation and circumstances that led up to the Radical Reformation in the 16th century.

It’s impossible to talk about the Anabaptists and not mention the terrible persecution they endured by both Protestants and Catholics because of their “radical” view of discipleship and their rejection of Christendom—the imperial church, militant and triumphant. It is rather shocking to read what the magisterial reformers (Zwingli, Calvin & Luther) thought about Anabaptists.

I make mention of this in the message, “Radical Discipleship” (2 of 6).

John Calvin is even responsible for seeing to the death of “heretic” Michael Servetus, a radical non-conformist. It’s ugly, folks. It should sober us to know how well-intentioned and misguided a Christian can be in “defending” truth.

This still happens today. It’s just mostly with our tongue that we burn people at the stake. According to James, that’s no small thing (James 3:1-12).

Okay. So let’s be honest, the Anabaptist movement isn’t without spot and blemish either. I want to make that clear as I write and preach on Anabaptism, and when explaining my reasons for naming this particular group “my tribe” and tradition.

Murray discusses this in his book. I highly recommend The Naked Anabaptist if you’re curious about Anabaptism. If you’re a Greg Boyd fan, you should know that he has written the forward for the book.

Embracing a Spirit of Unity

Yesterday I met a Lutheran pastor in our community for the first time. Our church partners with his church, and others, in ministering to the homeless during the winter months. I stopped by to drop off some clothes and Bibles. I had the pleasure of catching him in his office.

Our conversation lasted for about an hour and a half. It was an encouraging dialogue. I wanted to share some of it with you as a follow-up to my last post, “On Christian Community, Diversity & Equality.”

When I first met this brother, one of the first things he did was embrace me. He looked at me through watery eyes and apologized for what his tradition (Martin Luther/Lutherans) had done to mine (Menno Simons/Anabaptists).

I must say that I was surprised by the refreshing gesture, which set a tone for the entire meeting. Reconciling love was in the air.

Let me say… this pastor (I’ll call him John) didn’t have to do that. It was a long time ago. He didn’t do those things to me. Besides, I just recently joined the Mennonite USA and began pastoring an Anabaptist congregation.

Yet, he did it. And it brings me to tears as I write this post.

I can’t help but wonder how this act of kindness might be imitated in other areas of life and faith. What would that look like?

Before I could even sit down, John went right into telling me that his wife of 20+ years had left him for another woman. She is now married to her new partner. As a result of this (still ongoing) experience, his views on marriage and human sexuality have changed. It quickly became clear that we have some disagreements on this issue. It’s the world we live in now.

I hope you know me well enough to know that I didn’t bolt for the door. I listened to his pain, and I did my utmost to understand his journey. I have no doubt that we will have some edifying conversations in the future regarding the topic. I look forward to it. I can see Jesus at work in this fellow pastor.

Most of our conversation was focused on reviving the Ministerial Alliance, a network of pastors in our area. The association is meant to coordinate ministry efforts and encourage continued ministry in our local communities.

In the past this group has been made up of both male and female pastors from different traditions. Of course, some choose not to be a part because of theological/biblical interpretive disagreements on a number of issues.

For some folks, “ecumenicism” is a bad word. Doctrines still divide those who love Jesus and want to build his Kingdom. It’s unfortunate. But after my recent conversation with John, I’m hopeful about the future of the church.

Listen to Jesus’ prayer for his Bride to embrace unity:

“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.”  John 17:20-23 NLT

Over the last few weeks, through local ministry and in attending an ecumenical conference, I have encountered folks from many different denominations. I even helped to feed and clothe the homeless alongside Lutherans.

I have been reminded of the singular bond that brings us together and sets us apart from the world: a love for Jesus, neighbor, and enemy—to see his Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

May Christ’s church seek peace and unity in love, so that the world will know.

D.D. Flowers, 2014.


Why I Do Not Support or Oppose Gay Marriage

A few weeks ago I posted Support Us or You’re a Bigot? here at the blog. I received a steady wave of feedback. It was mostly civil. I learned this much, if you want to boost your blog traffic just express your views on homosexuality or gay marriage.

The primary point of Support Us or You’re a Bigot? was to voice my concerns over the name-calling and the vitriol that is so common when we allow extremists to set the stage of any debate. It’s wrong, unfair, and dishonest. A person can disagree with “gay marriage” and still love their gay neighbor, just as they do their Muslim, Wiccan, and white supremacist neighbor. I’m pleased to say that my post resonated with gay folks I know who also don’t approve of the way both progressives and fundamentalists have handled the debate.

Let me be clear. I don’t support or oppose gay marriage. And for good reason. It is for me a conviction rooted in Christ and his ability to creatively navigate cultural situations and contexts for the sake of the Kingdom.

I wonder if you have recognized that we can’t hear a third way of dealing with this in the culture because the matter is truly unlike most issues involving civil rights. It’s not a race issue, it’s a moral issue. And some folks are legitimately concerned that if “gay marriage” is sanctioned (based on the feelings one person has for another), then what is to stop polygamy, or something even more detestable? Are you going to deny their “rights” too?

You can’t easily brush this question aside if you’re an honest, thinking person. Why should “rights” stop with gay couples? It shouldn’t according to the logic of the LGBT folks and supporters I’ve heard. But what sort of world would we be inviting? It’s a question for the church and the state.

There you have it, folks—one more reminder why politics, and the rules it must operate by, will never be able to bring the full measure of peace, freedom, and justice we long for in the world. You have to draw the line somewhere, but it will require that we reach beyond utilitarian logic itself to a divine, transcending order in the universe.

Something, oddly enough, even America’s deist founders understood.

No pragmatic politics or ethics will do. Without moral boundaries given from above, i.e. built into creation and divinely revealed, we must make it up as we go. “Do what thou wilt” shall be the whole of the law.

In case you missed it, I’ve been upfront that I don’t believe homosexuality (or even faithful “monogamous” homosexual relationships) is God’s best for humanity. And I believe this should be lovingly addressed in the church, right after we address the problem of divorce and adultery among heterosexuals. So, I believe it’s at this point an “in-house” issue.

The real problem I see here is what happens to the issue when it enters the ambiguous, complex, and nasty realm of politics. As an Anabaptist thinker and practitioner, this is where I bow out with a purpose.

While I don’t believe in a complete, unilateral withdrawal from politics, I’m convinced that a political response from evangelicals is not helpful at this point. All of this is happening because the church has failed to display the beauty of the covenant relationship between a man and woman, and because of her unwillingness to love neighbor and enemy alike.

In other words, the acceptance of homosexuality and a “gay identity” in our culture is symptomatic of a much bigger problem.

The way I see it the church’s engagement with politics should (on most occasions) be a creative indirect engagement with the state.

Our faithfulness to Christ in community, seen by the way we conduct ourselves in the church, is the primary means by which we persuade the State to conform to the Kingdom.

Every day that goes by (in this so-called “democracy”) makes it more difficult to maintain our witness for Christ and also involve ourselves with the business and conundrums of the state.

It’s just unfortunate to me that most evangelicals never question the methods of politics. Jesus distanced himself from worldly kingdom power and taught his followers to do the same. He refused to enter into pointless, hot-button debates by choosing sides. And that’s why I have chosen neither to support or oppose what’s going on within politics on this issue.

With that being said, because of the nature of this debate, I do think that this whole thing wouldn’t be such an uproar if the state would deal only with civil unions, and leave “marriage” to the local church.

The church should concern herself with the church and let the state do what the state’s gonna do at this point. 53 percent of Americans are in favor of gay marriage, including many Christians. I suspect that number will continue to rise. It’s the world we now live in folks. Entering into the political debate is doing more harm than good for the Gospel of Christ.

I think it might be different (allowing the church to speak out on the issue) if she had been faithfully following Jesus in the first place. But how can we speak up when we’ve made a bloody mess of the institution of marriage ourselves. We’ve failed to protect marriage and our gay neighbor made in God’s image, therefore we’ve lost the right to speak.

Speaking from a political platform only perpetuates the problem—-as well as thinking that buying Chic-Fil-A in an organized boycott-retaliation helps the cause of Christ and communicates love for our neighbor. We must stop allowing the world to shape us into its mold, and give up on the American “let’s-police-the-world” approach to issues that concern us.

This hostile and down-right belligerent defense is nothing more than sanctified bullying and coercion done in Jesus’ name. And we’re reaping the consequences for it all in our now “post-Christian” society.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


Support Us or You’re a Bigot?

If you read my blog much you know that I’m far from a right-wing Christian fundamentalist, but I also don’t espouse Liberal theology, nor am I a card-carrying member of the increasingly “progressive” branch of Christianity. I never liked cards anyway.

I see the whole of fundamentalism and “progressive” Christianity as two extremes—both missing the mark. Let me explain.

I grew up within a mild form of Fundamentalist Christianity, and I’m still surrounded by it here in Texas. It is known for being dogmatic, legalistic, obsessed with biblical inerrancy, militant in defending creationism, escapist in eschatology, and committed to nationalism and the Republican party.

For all its flaws, I do think that fundamentalism has been very forthright about the person and saving work of Jesus, even if that message is often a bit muddled with poor atonement theories and hell-fire, pulpit-pounding.

Nevertheless, a clarity about the person and work of Jesus is refreshing after you’ve been bombarded by many competing voices in the culture that wish to turn Jesus into a gnostic guru, a civil rights leader, or reduce him down to a social revolutionary, and nothing more. Liberalism at its finest.

Liberal Christianity today is really just a post-enlightenment version of Thomas Jefferson’s sanitized Jesus—a Jesus stripped of his divinity, his miracle-making, and muzzled from making exclusive truth claims.

If a person comes to believe in such things, they shouldn’t even call themselves a “Christian” anymore. If you can’t affirm Christ’s divinity, his saving power by the cross, and his literal resurrection… you’re not a Christian in any historical sense of the term. If you want to start the Church of Jefferson, fine. But please leave historic Christianity to us Christians.

Progressive Christianity has much to say in response to pop-culture evangelicalism. Progressives like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, and many others need to be heard.

I can see and hear Jesus in these guys. I’ve benefited from them.

For example, I agree that the teachings of Jesus have been neglected and that doctrine (orthodoxy) has been emphasized over Christ-like living (orthopraxy). I believe that salvation begins in the here and now, that social justice is integral to discipleship, and that evangelicalism needs a more responsible biblical interpretive method.

I’m passionate about those things!

But I must say that I particularly take issue with how “progressives” have created a synthetic fog over a handful of biblical passages dealing with homosexuality, and seem to be using a “join-us-or-you’re-a-bigot” approach to responding to evangelicalism’s overall failure to love our gay neighbors.

Progressives appear to want nothing less than full support of the LGBT community, meaning that you agree that homosexuality is an acceptable way of being human, and that Jesus would approve of gay “marriage” (going beyond civil unions to the church blessing the relationship), or you’re “homophobic” and an enemy of all that’s good.

Let’s be honest. If this is the way progressives are going to frame the issue, reflecting the typical polarities of hot-button issues within politics, they are only going to perpetuate the vitriolic climate in society—a climate they say that they lament. But I do wonder if they’re not being just as divisive and dishonest as the folks over at Westboro Baptist.

Is it “bigotry” to disagree with someone on a moral/religious issue? Is it “hate” to believe another person’s life choices are destructive to that person and to society? Is it “homophobic” to believe that homosexuality is a sin like adultery, greed, or idolatry, and oppose elevating it to normal human behavior, as if it were an obvious evolution of mankind? Is it “intolerant” to want to maintain laws (church & state) that support a historical, time-tested institution (heterosexual monogamous marriage) for the good of society?

As many of you know, all of this has been leveled at those who disagree in any way with the LGBT community and her “progressive” supporters. I see a constant stream of this stuff on social networking and online magazines, especially in light of Rob Bell’s recent affirmation of gay marriage.

This is the message I’m getting: You’re either a supporter of LGBT or you’re likely an intolerant bigot who hates gay people.

I think this is unfair and dishonest. It leaves no room for a third way of responding to the LGBT community and those in our local communities that have embraced a gay identity. It claims that in order to love your gay neighbor you must accept their lifestyle.

Why must this be the case? Do I have to accept the violence, greed, and idolatry of my neighbor and enemies in order to love them? Of course not. So why should it be any different with gay folks in our communities? One extreme (fundamentalism) doesn’t justify another (liberalism).

If you consider yourself a “progressive” Christian, I want to encourage you to consider how LGBT supporters can be more honest and fair in their treatment toward those of us who disagree with you, but at the same time want to love their gay neighbor and accept them as created in God’s image.

Listen to Tim Keller represent a third way with grace and truth.

What do you think? Do you believe there is a third way that’s being overlooked? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.


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