Encouraging Obedience in Community: Thoughts on #Revoice18

Folks are gathering in St. Louis this weekend for a new conference for gay and same-sex attracted Christians intent on obeying the historic Christian understanding of sex and marriage. But it has not been without controversy from both sides of the aisle. Current debate from conservatives around the Revoice conference has centered on the morality not of homosexual acts but of homosexual temptation and orientation. Is homosexual temptation itself sinful even if you hold to and obey a historic Christian understanding of sex and marriage between a man and a woman? And what does it mean to be gay if not that you are sexually attracted to your own biological sex?

Debaters I’ve read all agree on putting off homosexual sexual practice. But do the “put off” instructions in Scripture apply to temptations as well as acts? Can you put off temptation to sin? And what do you put on in place of homosexual temptation if God does not replace homosexual attraction with heterosexual attraction?

If nothing else, the debate has shown that the words—temptation, attraction, desire, and love—are defined and used differently even among folks seemingly on the same “side.” But the Bible itself particularly uses the words temptation and love in different ways, so this wrestling over meaning of terms is not surprising.

The debate online often gets into categories hard for the average person in the pew to follow. One shouldn’t have to have a M.Div. to either give or receive truth from Scripture on this topic. Having walked with several close friends through this issue—some holding on to the historic understanding of sex and marriage, others abandoning it, and none having a masters level understanding of theology—I have a vested interest in seeing this handled well in local congregations, among non seminary trained believers that make up the majority of our local churches. I have witnessed many stumbling blocks in the form of careless words and dehumanizing mischaracterizations put in front of Christians who experience same-sex attraction as they struggle to find their place in God’s kingdom. We need to make sure that any weights that come from our words are the weights associated with the true cost of obedience to Scripture, not additional weights we have added because we don’t think Scripture goes far enough in its prohibitions. With that in mind, I hope to offer here some helpful Scriptural parameters for thinking through a topic that has serious implications for many dear brothers and sisters in the faith.

Setting the Parameters

Scripture teaches us much about temptation and persevering against sin. When we survey Scripture on the topic, we have necessary parameters for the discussion, but we aren’t left with the systematic clarity that some would like. It’s important then, as we give testimony of how God has helped us individually persevere against heterosexual or homosexual temptation to sin (or any other sin), not to allow our personal experience to add a dogmatism to things Scripture doesn’t explicitly say. Just because God worked in a particular person a particular way doesn’t mean He will work identically in the next person experiencing similar temptation. Unless Scripture explicitly says He will.

The first Scriptural parameter is that we are required to love the soul struggling to persevere in a historic Christian understanding of prohibitions on any sin, including homosexual practice. Loving our neighbors as ourselves means in part thinking through what would encourage us to persevere in faith and obedience to Scripture in a temptation whose persistence in our lives becomes a trial of faith. That is the commanded starting point Christ taught in the gospels, on which all further laws and instructions in Scripture hang (Matt. 22:36-40).

The second parameter is that we know from Scripture that there exists a category of believers that are gifted toward celibacy (Matt. 19:12). What is the positive element of Christian human flourishing for a single not attracted to the opposite sex? Does this category and their purposes in the church give insight for human flourishing for those who experience ongoing attraction to their same sex rather than the opposite sex?

The third parameter comes from Hebrews.

For since he himself has suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. Heb 2:18 CSB

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. Heb. 4:15 CSB

We can gather several things from Hebrews 2 and 4. First, there is an element of suffering that comes with temptation. Second, Jesus was tempted in every way as we are. Third, Jesus therefore is able to help (succor in the KJV) those who are tempted. He is able to sympathize with our weakness and nourish us when we are tempted. The language of these passages in Hebrews reminds us of Parameter 1—our command to love those struggling to persevere in the faith in light of ongoing homosexual attraction. Jesus loves and nourishes us. We too, in His image, must love and encourage others in obedience.

A Complicating Factor

The fourth parameter seems a contradiction to the third. It comes from James 1.

13 No one undergoing a trial should say, “I am being tempted by God,” since God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn’t tempt anyone. 14 But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desire. 15 Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.

With this seeming contradiction, we might be tempted to throw the book of James into the river as it is reported that Martin Luther once did. But it is better that we use the paradox between Hebrews and James on temptation to give us necessary boundaries for understanding the whole counsel of God on this issue.

This seeming contradiction between Hebrews and James concerning temptation reminds me of a scientific conundrum I have referenced on this blog before, the seeming contradiction between Newtonian physics and Quantum physics. Most of us (even artists, poets, and theologians who don’t think they are) are familiar with Newtonian physics. It centers on the concept of gravity. An apple fell on Sir Isaac Newton’s head in the late 1600’s, causing him to develop his account of gravity. Large objects (like our earth) pull smaller objects toward them (like an apple being pulled back to the earth or the moon being held in orbit by the gravitational pull of the earth), and the foundation of Newtonian physics was laid. Much in our world fits Newtonian physics, and it has become a great tool for understanding the universe.

From the moon circling the earth to humans walking along the ground, it seems that our universe is fundamentally held together by gravity. I was even taught in high school in the 1980’s that electrons orbited around neutrons in atoms similar to the planets around the sun. The idea was that the neutron held the electrons in orbit through the gravitational pull of the neutron.

The problem is that scientists have discovered that electrons and neutrons don’t actually work like that. In fact, you can’t even measure how an electron travels in an atom. All of our world does not, in fact, obey Newtonian physics, particularly at the micro level. So we have a universe that follows one principle while the tiny parts that make up that universe defy it.

Albert Einstein and others after him sought for a Unified Field Theory, something that explained how the universe worked on a macro and micro level. How could the big parts of the Universe work together in a way that the small parts making them up defied? There has to be a bigger principle at work, one that explains both.

Do you see where I’m going here? The fact that there seems a discrepancy between Hebrews and James on temptation doesn’t mean that there actually is. And we have to hold the two together in faith until we understand how to fully reconcile them.

Holding It All Together

Jesus was tempted in all points as we are and nourishes us when we are tempted so that we can endure and persevere in the faith. But we can’t blame our temptations on God. And there is temptation that starts with evil desires, for example lust, that progresses to sin and death. We must guard ourselves from that progression. We must put it off.

Ephesians 4 teaches us that when we put off sin, there is a corresponding action to put on. This speaks into questions raised around Revoice. What do believers putting off homosexual practice put on in its place?

20 But that is not how you came to know Christ, 21 assuming you heard about him and were taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to take off your former way of life, the old self that is corrupted by deceitful desires, 23 to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, the one created according to God’s likeness in righteousness and purity of the truth.

25 Therefore, putting away lying, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, because we are members of one another. 26 Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and don’t give the devil an opportunity. 28 Let the thief no longer steal. Instead, he is to do honest work with his own hands, so that he has something to share with anyone in need. 29 No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:20-29

Put off and put on go together. We put off lying, and we put on speaking the truth. We put off stealing, and we put on honest work that we share with others. We put off foul language and put on language that instead builds up those around us.

What do we put on in place of homosexual practice and lust? Do we put off homosexual sex and put on heterosexual marriage? Are Ruth and Boaz the goal? That has certainly been a blessed progression for some. Like an alcoholic miraculously healed from a desire to drink, such folks give amazing testimonies of transformation. But they can also be uniquely frustrating to those who have not experienced such a miracle concerning temptation, those still struggling daily to obey.

Others who have put off homosexual practice and lust have not experienced a miraculous change of attraction. They have “put to death” the sin of homosexual practice, but the question of what to put on in its place is worth considering. Can we “put off” homosexual lust and practice and “put on” same-sex Christian friendship? That has been the progression for others. Jonathan, knit to the soul of David, becomes an example (1 Samuel 18:1). Or the disciple Jesus loved resting on Jesus’s bosom (John 12:23). When believers putting off same sex lust and practice and put on non-sexual love for their brother or sister in its place, they become a countercultural example of what deep, loyal, affectionate Christian friendship was always supposed to be.

Maybe it’s not so complicated after all.

9 Responses to Encouraging Obedience in Community: Thoughts on #Revoice18

  1. roscuro July 27, 2018 at 11:00 am #

    I posted this elsewhere as a comment on this same discussion topic:

    I think the current confusion about whether temptation is a sin or not is because the lines have been blurred between temptation and the natural fallen human lusts of the flesh. Jesus was tempted, yes, by his own hunger and Satan’s suggestions, but he did not have the sinful lusts of the flesh, such as gluttony or pride, that Satan was suggesting to him. Remember, Jesus was tempted on all points the way we are, but without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Some translations translate that phrase ‘without sin’ as ‘but he did not sin’, but the Greek word for without means separate or away from. Jesus was not a son of the first Adam and thus had not inherited a sin nature.

    The current debate over temptation and sin is in the context of the popular idea that Christians can identify themselves by the direction of their sexual attraction. As long as they remain celibate, they are only experiencing temptation, not sinning. The problem, however, is that before the same sex attraction question arose, Christians that would identify as heterosexually attracted had already blurred the lines between temptation and lust. Jesus said that looking at a woman for the purpose of lusting after her was already sin. But modern Christians have compartmentalized their thought life from their physical actions and justify thinking sinful thoughts as being simply temptation, so that the former president of Southwestern Theological Seminary thought it appropriate to tell a story about a teenage boy lusting after an attractive girl as an illustration of God’s original creation (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2018/05/10/southern-baptist-leader-apologizes-for-sermon-example-about-teenage-girls-physical-appearance/). But sexual lust was never a part of God’s original creation. It was not until Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of both good and evil that they saw their nakedness as being shameful and needing covering. Only then could they see how to pervert the beauty of sex into ugliness. Adam, in his originally created state, would never have found any other woman but Eve to be sexually attractive. It simply would not have occurred to him.

    Human beings have natural hormonal urges to have sex, but to lust for or think of having sexual contact with someone else, outside of the marriage relationship between one man and one woman, is sin. Here someone may say, that it is impossible to stay absolutely pure then, since the human mind often very quickly focuses on sex when one encounters someone whom they find attractive. But that is exactly the point. We humans cannot save ourselves. Christ is the only one who can save us and he does save us. Christians still have fleshly lusts, but by the Holy Spirit, they become dead to those lusts (Romans 6:1-7, 8:1-5). “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar and his word is not in us.” (John 1:8-10).

    • Anita July 28, 2018 at 11:11 am #

      Thank you, roscuro, for this explanation. I was trying to figure out what the contradiction between Hebrews and Ephesians actually was. Your explanation of expecting perfection rather than admitting we cannot be perfect and resting in God’s grace and mercy while we do the best we can to be obedient to God’s law helped me to see what it is that people see as a contradiction.

    • Meredith July 28, 2018 at 7:12 pm #

      You are conflating sexual attraction with sexual lust. They are not the same thing. The first is simply a fact of being sexual creatures- to experience sexual attraction is neither good nor bad, it is what one does with it. Lust is objectification- it is seeing someone only as a means to selfishly get what you want sexually. A man lusting after his wife is sinning just as much as if he lusted after a girl on the street- in both cases he is reducing the woman to an object, denying her humanity, caring only for his own titillation. In the same way, a man who finds himself sexually attracted to another man but instantly brings that attraction before God, praying for the strength to rightly steward his sexuality, praying to see the other man holistically as a human being, and not allowing himself to indulge in lustful fantasies, is no more sinning than if he was sexually attracted to a woman and followed the same path.

  2. Jennifer Whitmer July 27, 2018 at 11:12 am #

    While I am still wrestling with this topic, I found this line incredibly helpful in many contexts in our walk with God: “The fact that there seems a discrepancy between Hebrews and James on temptation doesn’t mean that there actually is. And we have to hold the two together in faith until we understand how to fully reconcile them.”
    Thank you for your examination and thoughts. (And I just want to sneak into Revoice as I pass the conference in my car today!)

  3. D. Lee Grooms July 27, 2018 at 6:52 pm #

    This has been quite a roller coaster to observe, stirring great compassion and not a little concern. We have miles to go before we’re the kind of church God wants us to be for one another—thankfully, in truth we’re carried the whole way.

    Conference and promotion culture concern me at least as much as some of the issues that I’ve seen raised with this conference’s content. It seems like contemporary evangelical culture (of which I am part, not an outsider) places high importance on stuff like conferences. Even as a white dude in the church, I really really don’t know where my place is or who my people are, so different gatherings around topics and commonalities should hypothetically make more sense to me than they do in practice.

    On so many levels, I wish a conference didn’t equate with legitimacy. When I hear “we’re putting together a conference” (and it’s pretty regular), I wonder why. Then there’s the promotion, the publicity tours and social media blitzes, and the inevitable grasping at some level of celebrity that always seems to be part of the mix. And then the responses: for or against? Which side are you on, and which (semi-)celebrities are on which team? Have you taken a stand on the conference (because one must always take stands)? It all seems so…extra…and different from simple fellowship with one another in the Body (where we debate stuff like coffee).

    But we are where we are, and this is how we do stuff now. I wish we loved one another well enough to need all the “extra” less desperately. Gathering together is good, though I understand and share some concerns once we get down to some of the specifics of Revoice. But it’s hard for me to consider it without coming clean about my concern for the whole conference-and-promotion mechanism, which is a big part of why the church is interacting about these issues in this way in the first place. I wish compassion and truth flowed more freely through channels in which I have greater confidence. Conferences are drama factories by their nature.

  4. Clarke Morledge July 28, 2018 at 9:29 am #

    Thank you, Wendy. This is wise counsel.

    I know that a number of folks have been disturbed by some of the LGBT “identity language” used at the Revoice Conference. This is understandable for folks, in our churches, who really have never walked with people, who experience same-sex attraction, and who do not achieve a miraculous change in their sexual affections, over the long haul.

    But if someone really listens carefully, Revoice is looking at this conversation from a completely different angle. How can we more effectively care for those who read Rosaria Butterfield, Christopher Yuan, or testimonies from the Restored Hope Network, and say to themselves, “Hey, this is great for them. I wish I have had victory experiences like that, but for some reason, God has never given that to me”…. how do we better do that?

    We all need to reflect on how God brings about His work of sanctification in us, and pardon the pun, resist the temptation to lump everyone into some cookie cutter mold, of the “gay agenda.”

  5. Curious Thinker July 31, 2018 at 10:40 pm #

    I have to agree with Meredith that there is a difference between sexual or physical attraction and lust. Lust can happen in a heterosexual situation where a man is lusting after a woman as if she is a mere object for his self-gratification whereas attraction between two people of the opposite sex is a innocent natural thing. One can have a physical attraction that doesn’t involve lustful fantasies and a heterosexual person who indulges in lustful thoughts where it comes from looking a porn and other dirty magazines etc can also turn to God for guidance on how to let of these sinful actions and subdue their temptation. God Bless

  6. Wendy August 6, 2018 at 6:51 am #

    I have found Section 5.5 of the Westminster Confession of Faith helpful for me as a Presbyterian at least. It recounts God’s sovereignty over temptation to sin and His use of it for “just and holy means.” V. The most wise, righteous, and gracious God does oftentimes leave, for a season, His own children to manifold temptations, and the corruption of their own hearts, to chastise them for their former sins, or to discover unto them the hidden strength of corruption and deceitfulness of their hearts, that they may be humbled;[19] and, to raise them to a more close and constant dependence for their support upon Himself, and to make them more watchful against all future occasions of sin, and for sundry other just and holy ends.[20]

    https://reformed.org/documents/wcf_with_proofs/index.html?body=/documents/wcf_with_proofs/ch_V.html

  7. Helen Louise Herndon August 6, 2018 at 1:26 pm #

    For what it’s worth, following is what I wrote to our elders at an Evangelical Presbyterian Church in St. Louis, as they were grappling with this issue and some of the thoughts and language used by Revoice”

    Like the “noble Bereans,” I have been examining the Scriptures regarding the upcoming Revoice Conference in order to evaluate what many people are saying about its content and agenda, and “to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11b) Based upon my hermeneutical and exegetical analysis of the Scriptures, and my observation of our current culture and society, I have provided some random thoughts to be considered by the Central Church leadership. They are not listed in specific order of importance. They also go beyond Revoice to the issue of the church and believers with same-sex attraction. Regardless of sexual orientations or proclivities, Scripture is the main foundation and guide for faith and practice. Next to Scripture is the tradition of the Church from its inception and early history.
    • The appellation or term “gay” may have diverse meanings, but use as an identifier is first and foremost recognized as acceptance, approval, and embrace of homosexual orientation, lifestyle, and/or practices by our society.
    o “Gay” is the world’s term or word used to promote
    homosexual behavior and lifestyle. It’s related to and
    expressed as pride in sinful sexual desires and behaviors.
    Washed, cleansed, and justified Christians should discard
    such an unwanted modifier or identifier. Heterosexual believers
    do not identify themselves by sinful lusts, propensities or sexual
    relationships/lifestyles. Neither should redeemed homosexuals.

    • There is no biblical reference identifying Jewish or Gentile believers by
    sexual desires/drives/emotions/feelings or any other feelings in Scripture.
    o To identify oneself as a gay-Christian is to shift focus from
    character, personality, and temperament—all of which more
    accurately defines or identifies personhood.

    • When one comes to Christ, Scripture describes the experience as: “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (1 Corinthians 5: 17).”

    • When Jesus forgave sin, such as the woman caught in adultery, He simply said: “Go and sin no more.” Scripture is simple and direct in dealing with sexual desires or temptations—really, with any sinful desires, temptations, or acts, not just sexual ones. It is unnecessary and unwise to complicate simple directions by adding to or subtracting from God’s revelation. It’s best when no longer practicing sin to not even identify oneself with it.
    o Christ realized temptation would still occur; he did not
    recommend the assembling of groups based on particular
    desires, drives, feelings, temptations or sins. None of the
    Apostles recommended such groupings either.

    • Evangelization or witnessing to others did not entail identifying with specific sinful struggles or temptations. Proclamation of the Gospel is clear, direct, and relates to all who are lost, in rebellion—in need of redemption without specific qualifiers.
    o One can relate to and witness to those experiencing same-
    sex sexual attractions without identifying oneself as gay.

    • The Bible says: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? . . . Therefore, come out from them and be separate.” (2 Corinthians 6: 14, 17)
    o The acronym “LGBTQ” was created by secular activists with
    an agenda to promote various sexual identities and lifestyles
    not accepted or approved by God’s divine revelation. Terms
    defining or identifying with such acts ought not be associated with
    believers; they are associated with wickedness and unrighteous
    acts. “LGBTQ” can be accurately associated with wickedness
    and unrighteousness due to its foremost understanding in society.
    Is it not clear to “. . . come out from them and be separate?”
    Perhaps the embracing of “LGBTQ” is a form of yoking oneself
    to an unbiblical definition, ideology, and identification.

    • The Corinthian Church dealt with incest. When repentance and restoration took place, the man was not identified as an incestuous-Christian. It’s possible he retained sexual feelings for his stepmother but cut off all relations with her. This is one example of the sexual sin or desires not identifying the repentant believer.

    • How do gays and lesbians flourish and thrive in a church? How does any Christian thrive in a church?
    o It is doubtful any Christian thrives in a church by focusing
    continuously or solely on one area of life. The church is
    composed of male and female, young and old, married
    and single. None are asexual. They do not prioritize or
    overly focus on one area of their lives. They focus first
    on the Triune God through worship, through Bible study,
    through prayer. They focus on edifying and encouraging
    one another through fellowship and service. They focus on
    reaching a lost world for Jesus Christ through the Gospel
    from neighborhood to ends of the earth. If they struggle
    physically, financially, morally, they confide, confess, and
    possibly seek counsel. Church leaders help and support
    in times of need. Believers thrive more by outlook, love
    and service to others than inward focus. Those with same-
    sex attraction issues and needs are not alone; most, if not
    all, in the church struggle in some area too. Our earthly
    journey will never provide us with perfection.

    There are areas in the lives of both single and married Christians that may never be fulfilled. Life is not equal to all; we live in a fallen, broken world. But thanks to God’s compassion, mercy, and grace, life can be blessed and greatly fulfilled with incredible joy, peace, and genuine purpose when submitted to His will and purposes. Our understanding of the plight of this world and life from God’s perspective delivers us from focusing primarily or solely on what we lack to what we have been graciously given.

    Revoice desires to reach out and help others, a positive and healthy motivation. However, it is possible it has allowed a secular worldview, activism, and agenda to have unduly influenced it and identified it. It may be difficult in the least and almost impossible for some to separate themselves from such an activist direction or thrust in their lives. But when one is delivered from bondage of evil sexual desires (We have to call them what they are; God did not give such desires to anyone; He is not the Author of sin.), that focus and priority in life needs to diminish, if not desist. As with abstention from sexual immorality, abstention from LGBTQ self-identification is most probably best.

    All adoptees into God’s family are called to assimilate, whether married, single and never married, divorced, or widowed, into a family of believers. They assimilate based on what unifies in Christ. There is no need to make sexual desires or needs an issue or public. For those for whom they may be a serious issue, there are pastors, church leaders, confidants, or private counseling available.

    This communication is merely meant to articulate contributing factors and/or Scriptural references that might assist in clarifying the issues involved. This issue deserves careful, cautious, compassionate, dialogue and discussion. I personally felt compelled to give much thought to it and to what might be the “whole counsel of God” where precedents and principles aptly apply.

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