Monday, September 19, 2011

Divorce and Homosexuality: Moral Equivalents

I don’t know about you, but I grow weary of the hypocritical judging that goes on within the church. We pick and choose what we will judge as if somehow we have the authority to do so. We do not! Some people are utterly alarmed by the shift in liberal ideologies in our culture but sit in our local churches and allow the most outrageous hypocrisy to take place right before their face and do absolutely nothing about it. They sound the alarm over government intrusions on religious liberties, but for some reason they cannot even confront the sin sitting right beside them. They talk about love and social causes, but don't love the person sitting in front of them enough to help them put off known, visible, scandalous sin. I wonder why that is. I wonder how they justify that behavior in their mind.

The issue of homosexuality and the reality of sinful divorce is a perfect example of hypocrical judging that takes place in the church. We condemn homosexuality with a degree of vociferousness that would make one think it is the worse sin imaginable. If our local church were to permit homosexual membership, we would be gone quicker than one could recite the Lord’s Prayer. Moreover, if a current member were to come out of the closet, the cost would be high indeed. We would remove this person from the membership rolls and discipline them without hesitation. I also dare to say that such discipline would be swift. To be sure, if we undertook all these actions in love and a spirit of genuine humility, they would be absolutely in accord with Scripture. This is precisely what God would have us do. In addition, we would do it with zest. However, would we do it with zest because this is what God would have us do? Alternatively, would we do it with zest because we have a personal issue with the sin of homosexuality? That is where the hypocrisy slithers in. We categorize sin and ignore it or focus on it according to our own biases and prejudice. We simply do not deal with sin that we don’t think is a big deal. One pastor, in talking about hate told me that people in his own church hate him, therefore, why should we deal with people who have a hateful spirit toward others? Is this what we have been reduced to in the church? Are we so numb to certain sins that we simply don’t see them as serious as the Bible does any longer? I am afraid that is the case in some situations. Sin is so prevalent and so many people in the Christian community have taken up sinful practices that some pastors and elders have just given up on dealing with it. When the apostle John writes “anyone that does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother,” (1 John 2:9) and we simply take those words with a “grain of salt,” what does that say about us? It says we do not take the word of God seriously. That is what it says. How can I follow a leader who does not take the word of God seriously? Christian leadership carried out like a Christian is one of the hardest jobs a man could ever do. It is exhausting in every way. The reason it is exhausting is because Satan walks around as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. And if that isn’t enough, the sin nature is the most spiritually self-destructive component we possess as fallen sinners and it is constantly getting us into trouble. The elder/pastor has to contend with that 24/7.

The sin of homosexuality is a serious one and merits correction from the church. We confront that sin in a spirit of humility and love. We love the person, hate the sin, and do all we can to help them overcome their sinful desires. What we do NOT do under any circumstances is lead them to think that because they really don’t like what they do, that God understands that this is just who they are and He loves them and accepts them along with their sin. God is in the business of freeing men from the bondage of sin, not understanding why it is that men claim to love Him but do not do the things He says. If a person is unwilling to repent of homosexual sin, we cannot receive them as brothers and sisters in Christ. We love them, but as we love any other unbeliever.

The sin of illicit divorce in the Christian community is no different from the sin of homosexuality even though we indubitably treat it differently. We create all kinds of outrageous interpretations of those texts of Scripture that deal with divorce in an attempt to justify the sin. We come up with multifarious explanations for why God understands our circuitous behavior of illicit divorce. Some will say that abuse is grounds for divorce and then define abuse so loosely that just about anyone has grounds to divorce if they so choose. Others will say that there were things prior to the marriage that once learned after the marriage is legitimate cause for divorce. Still others will say that if a person was mentally down or very emotional when they married that this altered state contributed to a major mistake in getting married in the first place and as such this is grounds for divorce. In our culture, it is enough for some to say that they are just not happy and God wants them to be happy, therefore, they should find a companion that makes them happy. The hypocrisy that surrounds the practice of illicit divorce in the Christian community is glaring! Accepting this practice is no less evil than accepting the practice of homosexuality or cohabitation. Just because you see it as different does not mean it is. I once conversed with a pastor who said that my view that homosexuality and illicit divorce were moral equivalents was ridiculous. He said, “of course their different.” I asked, how? He had nothing to say. I said to him, “I am sorry pastor, but I cannot accept your view that they are different just because you say so.” The Bible makes no distinction between the sin of homosexuality, cohabitation or illicit divorce. Scripture prohibits every one of them and treats them as serious sins. Therefore, so should we.

What do we say about the excuse that some things done prior to marriage can serve as grounds for divorce? Some people think God is quite sympathetic under such circumstances. Is this position legitimate from a biblical perspective? First, all marriage must be viewed as God joining the couple together. Marriage is a divine and binding covenant between one God, one man, and one woman. God could have prevented it but He did not. In fact, God ordained it or it never would have happened. That ought to be our starting point. If you do not begin with sovereignty, you end up in a world of incongruities. Think about it. If I can say that God did not join us together because of “x” reason, then what is to stop another person from saying the same thing only with a different reason? For example, what if a particular wife says that God did not bring them together because she did not like and could not tolerate the way he snored, therefore, she can divorce him. Another wife says, “God did not bring us together because I thought he made more money when I married him.” Yet a husband might say, “God did not bring us together because I did not know she would gain so much weight over the next five years.” Since there is no absolute standard for what would serve as a valid reason to invalidate a marriage, anyone could come up with any reason for why he or she can divorce. That is, if it is possible to marry without God ordaining it from eternity past. In other words, if people can marry outside of God’s decretive will. However, nothing happens outside of God’s plan. Such a view is extreme subjectivism and contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture. God ordains everything that happens and this includes all marriages, even the ones that come with complex situations. What if a man was a convict and he did not tell the woman. He marries her and later she finds out that he has a felony on his record. Can she divorce him? Of course not! What if this man gets into legal trouble and ends up in prison for a time? Can she divorce him? There are no such provisions in Scripture for doing so. How should she look at her circumstances then? She should recognize God’s sovereign control over all things and that He is using these circumstances for His glory and her good. She must ask, “How am I to respond to this situation?” To answer that question, she cannot turn to modern culture. She must turn to Scripture. Life is not about her own self-gratification. It is about her finding her greatest pleasure in God. God ordained a temporally unjust prison sentence for Joseph according to his plan and own good pleasure. Who are we to demand that God do things according to the way we want them? This may mean remaining married to a man even if he turns into an alcoholic. It may mean remaining married to the most unpleasant woman you could imagine. However, neither unpleasantness nor drunkenness serve as legitimate grounds for divorce. Marriage is about God first before it is about us. God tells us clearly what He expects from us around our sexual behavior as well as our marital relationships. We are not free to pick and choose what we will perform and what we will neglect. Such thinking may be perilous to the soul.

In some cultures, marriages are arranged and even take place at very young ages. The couple has no say in their future spouse. The parents of the children make all the arrangements. In fact, in some cultures, so-called “love marriages” are deemed scandalous. How do we counsel a woman that is married to a man that she had no choice but to marry? Since she really did not consent to the marriage, or had no say in the marriage decision, would God understand if she wanted out? On the contrary, our counsel would begin with God’s sovereignty over all things and His regulations for husbands and wives. Even in arranged marriages, God is sovereign. He is the one who arranged the marriage from eternity past. What matters now is how we honor and glorify Him in that marriage. The means by which people become husband and wife vary by culture. However, the commandments of God do not vary by culture and therefore we must be prepared to adopt views that are congruent with Scripture when approaching the subject of marriage and divorce in every culture. It is frightening to think that many westerners act as if God wrote the Bible in western culture and in modern times. That attitude never ceases to amaze me.

Another way we behave hypocritically is with regard to these kinds of sins is that we demand real change from some sin but not others. For instance, we demand that homosexual acts cease. You cannot continue to have homosexual relations and repent of homosexuality at the same time. The same holds for cohabitation. We would not allow a couple to claim that they have repented of cohabitation while still cohabitating. However, we treat illicit divorce entirely differently. I have actually conversed with two pastors that think a spouse can divorce their husband or wife, and even though the other spouse seeks reconciliation, they can be truly repentant without reconciling with their spouse. In other words, I can divorce my spouse and repent of that divorce in God’s eyes without reconciling with my willing spouse. How can a wife know that her husband desires reconciliation for the relationship, and repent of divorcing him and remain divorced? What does repentance mean? What does it look like when we repent of our sinful behavior? Godly sorrow is the basis for repentance. (II Cor. 7:9-11) Paul says that the Corinthians were made sorry to the point of repentance by the will of God. Then he says the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret that leads to salvation. Repentance is a real desire to turn away from the sin. If that desire is not there, there is no repentance. You can be sorry about it all you like. However, unless that sorrow is of the godly kind, you will not repent. You will continue doing what you have been doing: your thing not God’s thing! This is another place that this hypocritical spirit operates in our churches.

We have no right to treat homosexuality and illicit divorce differently in our churches. If we have been guilty of that in the past, now is as good a time as any to correct that kind of behavior and thinking. If we are to take the Bible seriously, then we must take Christianity seriously. If that is the case, then to be a member in the community of faith is not just a tremendous privilege it is a huge responsibility. Let us put away the hypocrisy in our midst, and bind ourselves to the truth of God’s word and display with our actions just how deeply we are convinced that His word actually does have authority over every aspect of our lives. We think like the world when we think that God’s plan in our lives has to equal our own personal happiness from a temporal perspective. God may bring us the most difficult marriage in the world, but He does so for our spiritual good, to demonstrate the power of the gospel, and for His own glory. You may have a strong sexual desire to engage in sexual behavior with the same sex. You may have to live with that temptation all your life. However, you are not free to fulfill your sexual urges or temptation if you are truly a slave of Christ. His grace is sufficient for us to remain in that marriage and to resist sexual temptation and even to help us as a church confront people that desperately need our help in turning from either of these sins. Only let us make sure we never engage in Satan’s work of calling evil good and good evil. Let us find our hope and confidence in Him. To Him be the glory, and the power, and all praise throughout the ages.

Excuse me if I seem to be terribly direct in this particular blog. When I say I am exhausted with hypocritical judging, I really do mean it. Nevertheless, a friend sent me a very encouraging saying just the other day: "All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing." Edmund Burke I am sure glad he didn't say "perfect men." The church is in dire need of reformation and a spiritual renewal. This must begin with leadership. Where are our leaders? Randy Travis and George Jones sang a country together a few years ago called, "Whose Going to Fill Their Shoes?" I wonder who is going to fill the shoes of the great preachers of the past who thundered God's word without fear or hesitation. Who will do that today? Who will stand up for truth rather than falling down on the excuse that "it's just not that black or white." Or, "it's just more complicated that than." And even, "your dealing with human emotions and you have to consider that when dealing with these very delicate situations." I wonder if God thinks that outright obstinance is a "delicate" situation. Good question!

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