Sunday, July 15, 2012

Exodus International and Eternal Security

There is more controversy around homosexuality over at Exodus International and the sin of homosexual behavior. Recently, associate professor of New Testament Studies at Pittsburg Theological Seminary, Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon has called for the resignation of Alan Chambers, head of Exodus International. Apparently, over the last year Mr. Chambers has been reassuring individual professing Christians that they are secure in their salvation even if they persist in the homosexual lifestyle.

This comes at the subject from an entirely different angle but it is far from new. There are two distinct positions one takes with regard the issue of eternal security. The older position is known as the perseverance of the saints. This position argues that Scripture teaches us that genuine salvation results in a radical change of heart that producing a radical change in living and that this salvation may never be forfeited. In addition, if anyone abandons the outward change of life, this indicates there never was a genuine radical change in the heart to begin with and therefore, the person never knew the Savior. The parable of the sower illustrates this phenomenon well in its explanation of the different soils. Some soil may receive the Word, but it lacks the characteristics necessary to nourish it, and by and by, over time, the seed fails. John the apostle wrote about those who were once in the community of believers and later defected, “…for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us…” (I Jn. 2:19) I Peter 1:5 says that our salvation is not up to us, but rather, that it is guarded, protected, preserved, and kept, not by our own will or power, but by the very power of God Himself. That is true assurance. As Keith and Kristyn Getty sing, “No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from his hand. Till He returns, or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand.” Amen!

The other version of eternal security comes at the subject from a very different perspective. It dismisses the lack of true change in a person’s life as inconsequential to the genuineness of regeneration, conversion, and repentance. Another Getty song expresses it well, “This the power of cross, Christ became sin for us, took the blame, bore the wrath, we stand forgiven at the cross.” Death is crushed to death! The power of the cross is not limited to its power to forgive sin, to release the debt we owe, but also to free from the power of sin. Oh, how deep the Father’s love for us, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure. Behold the lamb upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders, ashamed I hear my mocking voice….it was my sin that held Him there. Christ died not  in vain. Why should I gain from his reward? I cannot give an answer. But this I know with all my heart, His wounds have paid my ransom! There is nothing so glorious and mysterious as God’s work of salvation in His only Son. What does it become when we reduce it to mere words that ring empty and are devoid of true transformation?

The OSAS (once-saved-always-saved) position is a perversion of the doctrine of perseverance. The idea that fruitless Christianity is a real possibility is a concept that is entirely foreign to the teachings of Scripture. Jesus said it at least a couple of different ways in the gospels of John and Matthew. In John 15:5, Jesus taught without ambiguity that everyone who abides in Him brings forth a large amount of fruit. The entire section when read in context serves as a sharp contrast between Jesus’ own view on fruit of biblical conversion and the modern OSAS perversion.

In Matthew 7:13-29 Jesus explicitly teaches that only those who hear God’s word and act on it will enter the kingdom of heaven. He goes to great length to demonstrate this teaching in his analogies of straight and narrow gates, his indictment against false prophets, and His construction illustration for building a house that will stand when the great tests come. Not everyone who calls Me Lord will enter, but rather, those who do the will of my Father, says Jesus. If OSAS were true, Jesus would never have been able to say this!

The apostle Paul wrote about this in Galatians as he attempted to strike a balance between the sinful tendencies of perseverance (legalism) and liberty (antinomianism). Here Paul draws up a list of specific works of the flesh. Porneia is one of those behaviors that Paul condemns in the strongest of language. This is a very broad word covering all kinds of various sexual behavior that goes against the express design of God in creation for human sexuality. This would include homosexual behavior. Paul clearly believes that the people who practice these sorts of behaviors will not inherit the kingdom of God. The focus of the participle in this case is on “the one practicing, doing, performing” these things. There is a stark contrast between light and darkness, freedom and bondage, flesh and spirit in Paul. There can be no doubt that those who practice homosexual sin, which is porneia, are clearly in grave danger of judgment. Paul says that the one’s practicing these things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Finally, Paul clearly says in I Corinthians 6:9 that homosexuals will not inherent the kingdom of God. The NT text could not be clearer about God’s view of homosexual behavior. Without ambiguity, it is placed alongside other sins like adultery, fornication, lying, slander, etc. As such, it is insufferable and intolerable that Christians should accept this behavior in this lives. It is a behavior we all must eschew and debar. Hence, it follows that anyone coming into the Christian group must show repentance from all sin, to include the sin of homosexuality.

This being the case, what can we say about the exchange between Dr. Gagnon and Mr. Chambers? The better question has to do with Mr. Chambers’ authority for establishing and managing Exodus International in the first place. The greatest problem with parachurch organizations is just that; they are parachurch. No ministry should operate apart from a local Church. Every ministry must be a ministry of the Christian group, coming under the jurisdiction of a Session or Board of Elders, Pastors, and the Church itself. As a ministry, Exodus International should come under the authority of Church Elders, not a board of directors. This would ensure that the ministry could be held accountable as it carried out its mission of service to the believing community and evangelized the world. The idea that individuals can spring up and do their own thing without coming under the authority of godly leaders and elders is as American as it gets and is far removed from Scripture. If that were the case in this situation, the local leadership of the Church could review the teachings of Mr. Chambers and take corrective action.

Dr. Gagnon is right to be concerned and he is right to speak out. Exodus International wears the label “Christian,” and what happens there, by implication, is “Christian” in nature. Homosexuals that are told that they are saved regardless of how often they engage in porneia are unmercifully being deceived. It matters not that one plead ignorance in this case. The result is the same. Mr. Chambers should be subjected to correction and if he refuses, as it seems he is doing presently, he should be subject to church discipline as outlined in Matt. 18:15-18, Gal. 6:1, 1 Cor. 5, and Titus 3:10-11.

We will begin to see how the New Testament texts use deep-rooted values and codes to uphold a faithful and obedient response to God, and to sustain the new community in its quest to be conformed to the image of Christ and no longer to the society from which it had separated itself.[1] So says David deSilva in his work in Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity. The point is that the group was far more prominent in Greco-Roman culture than it is in many western cultures today and that is especially true in American culture. The extreme individualism of American culture is really quite antithetical to the culture in which the NT documents began to exist. This fact has served as a serious impediment to the American Christian’s ability to understand the text of NT Scripture. If we had a better grasp of the “group” we would be in a much better place to understand how the audience of the NT saw themselves within the context of the Christian group. Notice that deSilva implies the existence of a group was in large part dependent on the members of that group upholding the group’s value system. In other words, if enough members defected from the value system of the group, the very survival of the group would be threatened. This rings true today when so many have abandoned the values of biblical Christianity while still attempting to maintain their status within the Christian group. One way of departing from a group would be to abandon its value system. This would result either in the member voluntarily defecting from the group of being censured from the group. The honor-shame society of the NT lent itself well to group culture. If an individual engaged in behavior that violated the group’s values, the group would shame the person as a means to correct them and bring them back into conformity. However, if the individual persisted in their shameful behavior, the group would censure the person, effectively excommunicating them from the group along with all the privileges that came with being part of the group. Nothing was more stinging than to lose face in the eyes of the group. This kind of thinking is somewhat foreign to American culture, at least for the most part. However, the teachings of the NT imply that these practices were more than merely the product of their culture.

Group think seems to be built on eternal values. The imperatives of Christ and Paul along the lines of excommunication only make sense in light of group culture. It is for this reason that the modern Church would be well-served to revisit this perspective sooner than later. As it relates to the Chambers’ case, the Christian group could shame anyone espousing the OSAS perversion of the doctrine of perseverance, bringing them back into doctrinal conformity to the truth as expressed in Scripture. The word conformity is a good word. However, when you read it in modern culture, you catch a negative connotation. You feel it as soon as you say it. Non-conformist sounds noble, more honorable, more attractive than the word ‘conformity.’ Yet, the very foundation of the church is built on conformity to the truths revealed by the Son of God Himself. Refusal to conform to His word is a sure indication that there has been no heart-change. The fruit Jesus talked about was conformity on the part of His true disciples, his true followers, true members of the Christian group. If parachurch organizations were part of the Christian group, perhaps it would be easier to manage false teachings and deceitful practices. Perhaps we would have a more effective mechanism for correcting those within and protecting the sheep from those without. No ministry should be an island unto itself.

[1] David Arthur deSilva, Honor, Patronage, Kinship & Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 18.

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