I came across a discussion on Facebook this morning about the gates of hell not prevailing against the church. At least that is how it started. In the comments, one particular individual mistakenly assumed that the statement was about a particular issue, namely the attempt by Houston Mayor Annise Parker to force area pastors to turn over their sermons to the state for review.
While this individual was incorrect in assuming that the initial post was regarding this specific issue, he did make some interesting statements that I believe reflect some of the thinking that is toxic to the church today – and to her message. The thinking I am referring to is not overtly wrong. It has some measure of truth in it, but a closer look will reveal that it is not pure truth – the kind that sets men free. It has a form of godliness, but lacks the power thereof.
I would like to speak to four points in particular. This is not in any way an attempt to embarrass this man. I do not know him. No names will be mentioned here. Let’s get started.
“The only mission of the church is love and forgiveness for everyone.”
The mission of the church is to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20). We must be careful not to confuse the mission with the motivation. The motivation behind the mission is the love of God as we ourselves have come to experience it (freely we have received, so now we freely give). Even so, there is a dangerously false application of this motivation of “love” that has permeated some church circles. It has bred a false sense of security for many and allowed countless numbers to remain in a lifestyle of sin (and I am not specifically referring to homosexuality) because “God is love, He accepts me as I am and He forgives me, so I can keep living the way I am living.” Partial truth is a very dangerous thing and should be shunned at all costs.
From where I’m standing, “Love and forgiveness for everyone” has two fundamental flaws in it. First, there is the missing component of the confession of sin. The Word of God is clear on the condition a human heart must be in before forgiveness from Him can take place. Confession of sin is the prerequisite to forgiveness of sin. Confession of sin is not simply an apology. I encourage you to do your own word study to gain a fuller understanding of what confession of sin and repentance really look like.
“Publicly forgive the lesbian, thereby draw the hearts of many to Christ.”
Unless I have missed something somewhere, the only ones in a position to offer forgiveness to anyone are the person(s) who have been wronged and the Lord Himself. This brings us to the second fundamental flaw in the “love and forgiveness for everyone” thinking. The church is not authorized to forgive sin on behalf of God. That is between the individual and God Himself. No pastor, priest or other church leader can forgive anyone. Do not mistake someone telling you that God forgives you for your actually being forgiven by God. That is between you and Him and is dependent on the condition of your heart as it lines up with the Word of God. Nor is anyone in the church authorized to offer forgiveness on behalf of another individual or group of individuals. Let me simplify this – if the sin was not against you, you do not have the authority to forgive it.
How can we, the church, publicly “forgive the lesbian,” if she has not sinned against us, either individually or as a corporate body? And even if we did, what would that look like? Would it mean asking the pastors affected by her abuse of power to stop their pursuit of justice where their Constitutional rights are concerned? What form would that “forgiveness” take that would “thereby draw the hearts of many to Christ?” And for that matter, which “Christ” would we be drawing them to? The Biblical Christ who was motivated by compassion to minister hope, healing, restoration and the forgiveness of sins or the modern-day false Jesus who lulls people into a fake salvation with half-truths and watered down faith messages promising prosperity and promoting self-fulfillment above fulfillment of His Kingdom purposes?
It is not my job to condemn anyone, even if I believe that other ways of doing things are right or better.
True enough. It is not our job to condemn anyone. Condemnation is never the work of the church. It is the result of a heart that has rejected the truth, bringing upon itself the natural consequence of that rejection. But what I believe vs what you believe does not matter. What matters is what the Word of God says. This is another area where the church has really lost her way. We have adopted a version of political correctness that causes us to be so afraid of offending anyone and “driving them away” that we tiptoe around sin. We don’t want to “judge” anyone, so we keep our mouths shut about the very heart of the gospel, and that is that there is repentance and forgiveness of sin, and restoration of right relationship with God. Jesus did not beat around the bush with the Samaritan woman at the well. He read her mail. He confronted her adultery up front, not condemning her for it, but putting it on the table in broad daylight and offering her the hope of a new life if she dared to leave her old one behind.
But we shout and scream at people outside the church who have adopted certain lifestyles, telling them how sinful they are and that they are going to hell for it. We call them names and make fun of them, putting a spotlight on the speck in their eyes while peering from behind the beam in our own collective eye that is made up of the other sexual sins listed alongside theirs in the very same verses of Scripture we use to call them out with. Does this sound like it has anything to do with making disciples?
Be wise and harmless.
This is a reference to Matthew 10:16, where Jesus was sending out the twelve “as sheep in the midst of wolves,” cautioning them about the coming persecutions. To me this is a reminder that our battle is not against flesh and blood but a spiritual one. To the individual we are trying to share the good news with, absolutely be harmless. But to the vile and rotten schemes of the enemy operating in and around that person, do great harm. We are to love our flesh and blood enemies and show no mercy to the spiritual ones. The wisdom comes in being able to tell the difference.
We are taught to “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but even this has a skewed application in most Christian circles. We may love the sinner in terms of accepting them where they are, because we all started somewhere. But do we hate the sin because we find it offensive or repulsive, or because it is what is keeping people bound to a lie, unable to experience true freedom in Christ – the very same freedom we have come to know? Dear church, our mission is spelled out in the first verses of Isaiah 61 and includes proclaiming freedom for the captives and releasing the prisoners from darkness. This mission must be motivated by the love and compassion that only comes from a heart that fully understands what grace and mercy taste like, because we know where we ourselves deserve to be and are humbled and awed by what Jesus did to give us a way out. We want to help others find the way to redemption as well.
When was the last time you looked at the Mayor of Houston and saw a woman who is bound by lies and in desperate need of the redeeming blood of Jesus to set her free? Yes, we can and should stand up for justice and truth in the political arena. Authority is given by God to humanity, who then delegates it to elected officials. Any person in a position of authority who abuses their power should be held accountable by We the People. But at the same time, let’s not lose sight of who we are to as the Body of Christ. Fight the political battle in the political arena, but don’t forget that there is an even more pressing spiritual battle waging here, one that can and must be fought in the spirit using non-carnal weapons. Our enemy is real and very focused, but we serve the God who brings about supernatural victories with a mere breath.
” … on this rock I will build My church,
and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven,
and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosedin heaven.”
Matthew 16:18-19 (NKJV)