Embracing chaos and confusion: The fallen worldview of theological revisionists (with a word of caution to the rising generation of ACNA clergy)

Theological revisionists have, over the years, perfected a way of broaching the issue of homosexuality (and other forms of sexual brokenness that make up an ever expanding alphabet soup of virtuous vices) that is long on emotion and short on substance. Veterans of the ecclesiastical wars that have been fought over the last half century are hardly impressed, much less persuaded, by the now worn out refrain that this is a “very painful and complicated issue.” The rising generation of clergy in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), however, have lately shown themselves to be disturbingly susceptible to the siren call to be more “winsome” when engaging the revisionists who continue to beat the drum of “very painful and complicated.”

A word of caution, therefore, is warranted to our young colleagues about the dangers of too soon abandoning the field of battle when the real conflict has barely even begun. The real issue at stake, both now and in the stormy decades preceding, has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with who we are as the church and how we propagate the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a secularized culture that is increasingly hostile toward and bigoted against that Gospel.

Veterans and rookies alike would do well to remember that sex (and the various perversions of it that have challenged the church over the last half century) is merely the presenting issue, that is, the point of engagement for a much deeper argument.

Human sexuality, placed within the wider context of the doctrine of creation, is a relatively simple matter. God created human beings, male and female, in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). In marriage, as ordained by God, that image and likeness is given full expression as two human beings, male and female, become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). For Adam and Eve, prior to the Fall, their relationship with God and with one another was one of idyllic, blissful perfection. They “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).

“Pain” and “complication” came with the Fall. Yielding to the Serpent’s deception (which entailed perverting one simple commandment of God into a complicated set of rules and regulations), Adam and Eve rebelled against God and threw all of creation out of harmony with God’s design. Sin so darkened the minds and hardened the hearts of many that even the simplest elements of God’s will became not only difficult but impossible for them to comprehend. “Claiming to be wise,” Paul says, “they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and reptiles” (Romans 1:22-23).

At the root of all human sinfulness is idolatry, “exchang[ing] the truth about God for a lie and worship[ing] and serv[ing] the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Absent the truth about God, human beings are also absent the truth about themselves. The result is utter confusion, ultimately manifest in the abandonment of the most basic of all human relationships.

“For this reason,” Paul continues, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27).

When the debate over homosexuality began, it was a basic conflict between two competing views of morality. But morality must have some objective basis, so traditionalists soon began attempting to elevate the discussion to one of the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice. In so doing, they exposed the revisionists’ true agenda, which was not to legitimize a sinful behavior, but to neutralize and denigrate the Word of God and all the essential doctrines emanating from it.

Revisionists, in a manner that was skillful only in their own eyes, first twisted the meanings of particular Scripture passages, then claimed they had been “mistranslated,” and finally abandoned them altogether as “antiquated.” It serves no purpose simply to quote Scripture to revisionists. To them, it has no authority, particularly with regard to their favorite sin.

What is left for traditionalists is the doctrine of creation and the Fall. The fact that God created human beings male and female ought to speak for itself. Yet, revisionists have even found a way to get around this inconvenient reality. Once again, it goes back to their rejection of the authority of Scripture. As they reject the New Testament implications of the Fall (as articulated by Paul and other writers), so they reject the Old Testament foundations for it, as well. Revisionists who reject the notion that God’s original design was a good and perfectly ordered creation will likewise reject the notion that the present creation is something less than God intended. Thus, revisionists will inevitably reject any notion of a final restoration of creation and of final judgment.

Revisionists are left to offer nothing but a moribund apologetic for the present state of creation. Homosexuality and other expressions of human brokenness are seen not as impediments to be overcome by the grace of God, but as gifts from God to be celebrated. God is neither the loving Father who created human beings in his own image, nor the righteous Judge to whom all human beings must one day give account. Rather, he is a generic deity who may have had a hand in creating the world but tends not to have much interest in its redemption, unless it involves eliminating the so-called “bigotry” of those who tenaciously hold on to the notion that he loves sinners so much that he sent his Son to die for them on the cross.

Ultimately, revisionists are left to embrace nothing but chaos because they have no sense of direction. They do not know where they came from and do not care to know where they are going.

Yes, homosexuality is “painful and complicated,” but only for those who are too obstinate to accept the truth about it and, thus, suffer the devastating effects of sin in their lives. For in rejecting the truth about homosexuality, revisionists reject the truth about God; and in rejecting the truth about God, they reject his offer of forgiveness and new life in his Son Jesus Christ, who came to save, heal, and restore a creation which was serene and in perfect harmony with God’s simple yet profound design before sin made everything “very painful and complicated.”

It is not easy to be “winsome” when reminding a world awash in hyper-sexualization that its present course can only lead to destruction. But the somber task of declaring the bad news that the wages of sin is death often falls upon the church in order that it may ready a people to receive the Good News that the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord (cf. Romans 6:23).

Abiding in Christ

In Christ, we can do all things to the glory of the Father. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing and, in fact, are nothing. At the end of the day, there is no middle ground. We are either in Christ or apart from Christ. We cannot pretend to live partially in Christ and partially in the world. To abide in the world is to be apart from Christ; a fruitless branch to be taken away by the vindedresser and tossed into the fire. To abide in Christ is to shun the world and its enticements and bear fruit for the kingdom of God.

To abide in Christ, to have his life in us, is to participate in the very life of God. “Abide in me, and I in you,” Jesus says (John 15:4). This is union with Christ which makes us one, also, with the Father through the Holy Spirit. The one who so abides in Christ cannot help but bear fruit to the glory of the Father because the same Spirit which is in Christ is also in everyone who abides in Christ. It is for this reason that we were created in the image and likeness of God, that God might be glorified through us. But the fall has cut us off from a perfect relationship with God. The only way to restoration is through Christ.

To seek a relationship with God apart from Christ is sheer foolishness. In fact, it is impossible. The only “god” we can seek apart from Christ is one we make in our own image to satisfy our own carnal desires. Whenever we think we can make the first move toward God, we inevitably end up with a god of our own making.

Here is the difference between the Christian faith and all others. In Christ, God is making the first move toward us. We are not seeking him; he is seeking us. We do not choose him; he chooses us. We are not called to strive under our own strength to find a god of our own imagination. We are called, instead, simply to abide in him whom God the Father has sent to draw us back to him. The God who seeks us is the God who created us to bear fruit for his kingdom and glorify his name. Our sins have cut us off from him, but he desires to restore us and make us whole again.

All he asks of us is that we abide in the life-giving, sacrificial love of his Son and keep his commandments. To do this is truly to live the life that pleases God and glorifies his name. To live such a life is true, full, and complete joy.

Faith that is so absolutely necessary

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God,” writes John in his first epistle (5:1). Faith, according to John, is the fruit of the new birth; a spiritual re-orientation of our whole being that enables us to love the Father and all his children, obey his commandments, and overcome the world (vv. 2-5).

True faith, faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, is not a natural human inclination. To have faith, we must be “born of God,” that is, “born again,” to use Peter’s words, “not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). For God alone is able to create faith within us, graciously drawing us away from our sins and toward his merciful, loving embrace; and it is God alone, revealed in his Son Jesus Christ, who is the beginning and the end of our faith.

It is only when we place our faith in God and God alone that our faith becomes real. A faith placed in the things of this world is no faith at all. You are not truly born of God if you still rely on your own strength, your own mind, and your own will. Neither are you truly born of God if you look to human institutions for security, protection, and livelihood. It is easy to fall prey to the temptation to trust in those things which are visible and tangible. Faith in a God we cannot see is indeed wrought with many uncertainties. But it is precisely those uncertainties which make a constant and abiding faith in the God who created the heavens and the earth so vibrant, so alive, and so utterly necessary.

On the voting habits of Jesus and other speculative nonsense

Search Amazon for books entitled How Would Jesus Vote? and you will be amazed with your search results. There seems to be a lot of interest in the hypothetical voting habits of the King of kings and Lord of lords, especially among Christians of the “evangelical” persuasion. Now, you can add to the mix another volume with a speculative title, Would Jesus Vote for Trump?, and highly offensive, if not outright sacrilegious, cover art. This nearly 400-page tome (which, apparently, is only available in Kindle format at present) is the joint effort of “best selling authors” Brandon Vallorani and Doug Giles, the latter of whom previously authored a book with the most dignified title, Pussification: The Effeminization of the American Male.

Let me start by stating the obvious. I am automatically suspicious of a book purporting to have been penned “by best selling authors.” Just as authors with legitimate doctoral degrees do not affix the “Dr.” title to their name on a book cover, legitimate “best selling authors” do not announce their accomplishments with trumpets on a dust jacket. In this day and age, all it takes to become a “best selling author” is to write a book and pre-order enough copies yourself to get it listed on a few internet sites.

Furthermore, being a “best selling author” does not make one an expert on the Christological implications of voting in a democratic election. For that matter, if you are prone to use such terms as “pussification” in your “best selling” books, I have my doubts as to whether you are an expert on anything pertaining to Christ or Christianity.

Be that as it may, these two “best selling authors” claim their book is an apologetic for Christians supporting Donald Trump, warts and all. That is not a subject that would hold my attention for very long. Christians are always faced with less than perfect choices in a less than perfect nation. Pragmatism and prudential judgment are part and parcel to life in a fallen world. Vallorani and Giles, however, seem to go beyond mere pragmatism to make the astounding claim that God is doing something through Donald Trump unlike anything he has ever done before. That is problematic.

The prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” is not now, and never will be, answered by the election of a president. Even the most virtuous of human governors would be but a pale imitation of the Supreme Governor of the Universe. History is littered with the carcasses of wannabe messiahs who forgot about, or simply ignored, this unchangeable truth. Court evangelicals like Vallorani and Giles (as well as Jeffres, Falwell, Metaxas, Graham, et al.), who heap unceasing and unqualified praise upon President Trump, are doing a disservice both to the president and to the people who look to them for spiritual guidance. Lifting up the president in prayer to God, that he “may be led to wise decisions and right actions for the welfare and peace of the world” (BCP) is the duty of all Christians. Slavish allegiance to the president, based on the presumption that his decisions and actions are always wise and right because Jesus himself would have voted for him, is an abdication of that duty.

Besides all this, the very question, “Would Jesus vote for Trump?” (or anyone else, for that matter) is a silly one. No one knows the day or the hour but, rest assured, if Jesus were to return on Election Day, it would not be to cast a vote.

The never changing faithfulness of God

“[F]amiliar texts,” says David Schmitt of Concordia Seminary, “are familiar for a reason. Whether it is, ‘The Lord is my shepherd,’ or the parable of the lost sheep, there is something comforting in a text that has sustained God’s people for generations. What people are looking for is not some new interpretation, a cultural detail they never knew before. Rather, what they want is the assurance things have not changed. God is still doing what He has always done. Sometimes we forget there is some comfort to be found in things not changing. In a world which looks radically different than it did ten years ago, it is comforting to know God has remained the same.”

The parables in Luke 15 are among the most familiar of texts: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and, perhaps most familiar of all, the misnamed parable of the prodigal son (which really should be called the parable of the father’s heart or the parable of the longsuffering father).

We know these stories. We love these stories. They are familiar stories—and they do, indeed, remind us that, in a world that is constantly changing—and not always for the better—God remains the same. His heart has not changed. He is still seeking, still saving; still going out of his way to find the lost and bring them home to a joyous celebration.

When you put it that way, you have to wonder how anyone could be offended by the message of Jesus. Who, in their right mind, would oppose a mission born of love from the very heart of God?

And yet, the occasion for Jesus telling these familiar stories is an occasion of controversy—a response to a group of people who are offended by what he is doing and with the company he is keeping.

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives  sinners and eats with them.”

Luke 15:1-2

We should not overlook the significance of the word Luke uses for the attitude of the Pharisees and the scribes. He says they were “grumbling.”

Luke may be the only Gentile author in the New Testament, yet he is a careful historian. He has made himself familiar with the stories of Old Testament Israel. Much of his Gospel is modeled on those stories. His intent is to hearken back to them so that the reader will come to understand that they find their fulfillment in Jesus.

So, what are we to make of the Pharisees and the scribes “grumbling?”

It calls to mind the Israelites in the wilderness, grumbling and complaining, repeatedly defying Moses and defying God. Our Old Testament lesson this morning gives us a particularly egregious example of that.

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

Exodus 32:1

“Grumbling” can have devastating spiritual consequences—and the Pharisees and the scribes, for all their piety and religiosity, were every bit as guilty of idolatry as the Israelites with their golden calf.

You can even hear the similarities in their complaints.

“As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.”

“This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

How many times have we heard the Israelites, and the Pharisees and scribes, presented as people who were resisting change?

The Israelites wanted to go back to Egypt. They were tired of the long journey to the Promised Land.

The Pharisees and the scribes could not fathom the idea of a man claiming to be the Son of God hanging out with such an ungodly bunch of riff raff.

They were not ready for such radical change. They would rather things stay the way they were or, better yet, go back to the way things had previously been.

That is one way of looking at it–the human, worldly way of looking at it–but was it change they were resisting? Was something new and unwelcome breaking into their world, or was their carefully constructed world being uprooted by something larger; something beyond it?

What the Israelites in the wilderness and the Pharisees and the scribes opposing Jesus were actually resisting was not change, but something that never changes: the faithfulness of God.

In the Old Testament, God raised up Moses to lead his people out of bondage and oppression in Egypt. In the New Testament, he came himself, in the Person of his Son Jesus Christ, to lead his people out of an even greater bondage and oppression wrought by Satan, sin, and death.

The Old Testament is a tragic story of Israel repeatedly rebelling, resisting, and rejecting the God who chose them to be a light to the nations. In the face of this constant faithlessness, however, God remained faithful.

Finally, to make clear beyond any shadow of a doubt, how much he loved his people, he came down and lived among them, died on a cross to save them, and rose victorious to open wide the door and welcome them home.

From the Exodus to the Resurrection, the mission remains the same: to seek and save that which is lost.

Like the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to find the one lost sheep; like the woman turning her house upside down to find the one lost coin; like the father longing for his wayward son to return home: our God is faithful, even when we are faithless; he is relentless, even when we are resistant. Whatever the cost, he will always find that which he seeks, even a grumbling, faithless, resistant sinner like your or me.