Thursday, November 13, 2008

Everyone Needs to Respond to the Good News

Former General Assembly Moderator Susan Andrews asked, “Can the inclusion of gay and lesbian persons be a part of our evangelism?” She was bringing up what she considered a sensitive question at a denominational evangelism consultation at Stony Point.

The answer seems a no-brainer to me: Of course we ought to include gay and lesbian persons in our evangelistic outreach!

No one—absolutely no one—ought to be left out of the invitation to say yes to Jesus Christ. Why would anyone not be given access to redemption and the opportunity to switch the lordship of one’s life from self to God? Who does not need to respond in obedience and thankfulness to so great a salvation? Everyone needs to be valued enough to be evangelized.

So, yes, by all means, we must include gay and lesbian persons as part of our evangelism. I fail to see any controversy in that.

If you want controversy, mention including Jewish persons as part of our evangelism. Or better yet, if you want controversy, try simply doing evangelism in a denomination that has studiously avoided it for decades. But sharing the Good News with gay and lesbian persons outside the faith and inviting them to give their lives in submission to Jesus Christ—just as every one of us already in the church has supposedly done—now that’s not particularly controversial, as I see it.

Something else?
But perhaps that isn’t what Susan Andrews was considering. Maybe she was trying to turn political social engineering into some form of ersatz evangelism. It is quite possible that she was thinking not so much of telling gay and lesbian persons about redemption through faith in Jesus Christ, but instead just kind of inviting them to join her club and be a part of this do-good social organization.

No expectations. No faith requirements. Nothing to give up, as Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do concerning his attachment to money. Just mosey on by and join our club, without paying any attention to the radical redirection of all of our life and living that is supposed to go hand-in-hand with making Jesus Lord of everything and not just chief affirmer of all that's wonderful in me.

There’s this little hang-up with sexual morality that perhaps Susan Andrews was hoping we’d just kind of paper over—you know, the thing about living our lives by God’s loving commandments rather than being controlled by our prideful sins and harmful addictions. That part about being born again, about confessing sin and experiencing metanoia (a turning of direction to follow God’s will); that part about saying “Not my will but thy will be done”—perhaps Susan would prefer to lay that aside and just tell people what they want to hear, not what they desperately need to hear.

Oh, we’d be very popular in this anything-goes world if we would simply invite people with any particular sin to celebrate it and not worry about conforming it to God’s will. We’d be hip. We’d be happenin’. We’d be the darlings of the “tolerant” set, who demand adoration of any bent other than orthodox Christianity, which oddly must not be permitted. The press would lionize such “acceptance,” as compared to the much-frowned-upon “intolerance” of orthodox Christian morality.

But we would be unloving, and we would be in opposition to the Lord of the Universe if we became sloppily antinomian. We’d be unloving by encouraging people to destroy themselves and others with ungodly actions. We'd be unloving in hiding from gay and lesbian persons the one message every one of us most needs to hear: Repent and be baptized.

We’d be in opposition to the Lord because we would withhold from people whom God loves the radical words of salvation. We’d be in opposition to the Lord because God hates sin, and no sin gets a pass, while every sin can be erased through God’s grace.

So, yes! Let us include gay and lesbian persons in our evangelism. The Good News is for every one of us sinners. Let us include them in the church—unrepentant as they taste the love of God and get exposed to the Good News of redemption, and then repentant as they are swept up in God’s overpowering love and accede to God’s lordship.

And let gay and lesbian persons—fully given to Jesus Christ as he gives them power to live chaste lives in obedience to him—reach out as evangelists to others, not with some bogus “good news” that tries to accommodate brokenness, but with the genuine Good News that Jesus saves us from any and all behaviors and proclivities, as he transforms our lives to mirror his good and perfect intent for our perfection.

Now that, I contend, would be gutsy evangelism!

19 Comments:

Blogger Kattie W. Coon said...

I wonder how many you’ll evangelize if you tell them they can come in as they are, but they can’t join.


“We’d be unloving by encouraging people to destroy themselves and others with ungodly actions.”

Did you really mean to say that? It doesn’t sound very reformed to me.

9:13 AM, November 14, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Kattie,

You amaze me. When I post a blog, does some bell ring in your lodging, and you slide down a fire pole to your computer in order to contest what I have written?

Evangelism isn't about "joining." It is about our relationship with Jesus Christ, about eternal salvation, about the fundamental authority structure in our life, about the forgiveness of sin and our adoption as children of a glorious and loving God.

If we're just looking for people to join our club, we should have a membership drive. We could offer two-for-one memberships with discounted tithes. We could waive membership requirements. We could sell the benefits and forget the responsibilities. We could spiffy up the clubhouse and add attractions. Then maybe we'd get self-serving members out for a soft and easy deal.

But I think we're talking about introducing people to Jesus Christ as his disciples. I think we're actually talking about the relinquishment of self to the lordship of Jesus Christ. I think we're talking the reality of sin and the need for redemption and forgiveness. We're talking something so fundamentally good and deeply attractive, given how we are made and the crying needs we have within ourselves, that cheap little inducements that would undo true Christianity simply do not belong.

People are attracted to Jesus Christ in all his fierce majesty and self-emptying love. A scaled-down, nothing-required, popular-society-driven "Jesus" has no attraction whatsoever to the one who needs salvation.

I DID mean to say that we'd be encouraging people to destroy themselves and others with ungodly actions. And what has gone haywire with your ear for Reformed theology? My statement is biblical and Reformed.

Read Proverbs 14:12. Or if you prefer the New Testament, read 2 Peter 2:1-10.

This may come as a shock to you, but God is not perfectly okay with our remaining in sin. Unconfessed sin leads to death, and death is certainly destruction.

If by my not sounding "reformed" you mean that what I wrote didn't fit into the popular nonsense about how everything given to us and set by God needs to be changed and always changing, then no, what I said doesn't remotely resemble that "deformed and always deforming" pattern. I'm talking about being RE-formed in the image of God, and always submitting our personal whims to the RE-forming power of God's Word. That is quite classically Reformed, thank you.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

10:32 AM, November 14, 2008  
Blogger Kattie W. Coon said...

Humph Jim,

"You amaze me. When I post a blog, does some bell ring in your lodging, and you slide down a fire pole to your computer in order to contest what I have written?"

No Jim, actually I saw that you had slithered out from under your rock and seem now to be on staff at the Layman. I then decided to look to see if you had posted anything new here.

You're right, evangelism isn't about joining. That's why I was wondering if you would let them join the club (church, little "c").

The reformed comment was actually a minor point. There's a difference between "destroying oneself", and "bringing destruction upon oneself". The latter is reformed, the former isn't.

11:38 AM, November 14, 2008  
Blogger Mac said...

Ms. Coon has identified the real problem very succinctly. The PC(USA), and by implication, the catholic Church, is a club. It has a purpose in her mind, but no standards. The Lion's Club helps the blind, but members are not asked to change their lives. The Red Cross helps victims of disasters, but does not seek to help its new "members" to change their hearts.

Before I left the PC(USA), I spoke with a pastor who told me about all the good works his congregation was doing. When I asked "At what point do you share with them the Good News?", he was appalled. "We can't do that. It will scare them off."

Until the PC(USA)decides what it wants to be more than an exclusively social agency on the par with other such clubs, it will continue to decline.

Mac McCarty
Downingtown, PA

11:45 AM, November 14, 2008  
Blogger Viola said...

Jim,

"If by my not sounding "reformed" you mean that what I wrote didn't fit into the popular nonsense about how everything given to us and set by God needs to be changed and always changing, then no, what I said doesn't remotely resemble that "deformed and always deforming" pattern."

I just know that one of these days I am going to borrow that. But I will atribute it to you : )

I am very glad to see you writing at the Layman. The Church needs your voice right now.

How wonderful it would be to see the LGBT people truly evangelized and transformed by Jesus.

Viola Larson
Sacramento California

4:05 PM, November 14, 2008  
Blogger Walter L. Taylor said...

Jim,
The "Evangelism" that Susan Andrews was talking about (and let's face it, her presbytery is one of the great, late, declining ones!) is how the homosexual advocates can evangelize the church, and change it, and not invite them into a life-changing relationship with Jesus Christ. This is one of the reasons that I thought this whole "Evangelism Deep and Wide" was a ruse from the beginning!

Blessings to you. Not all who write for the Layman are so bad!!

7:30 PM, November 14, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Walter,

Good to hear from you, and thanks for the compliment at the end--I think. The last time I felt so good about a compliment was the time someone told me that for a fat guy, I sure don't sweat much. [grin]

I don't think we need to cut down the "Evangelism Deep and Wide" program as a ruse, however. Yes, there will be all types who try to hitch their hobbyhorse to the program, especially should it find some funding. We'll be amazed at how many things will be considered "evangelism" if money is there.

But at its heart, I think the program really is intended to revive evangelism in the denomination. It had been killed and buried by a previous anti-evangelism office, but the new department head has a real heart for evangelism and is trying his best to stir some life in the old corpse. I think he will accomplish something. So let's give him a chance--as we do what we can to shepherd evangelism along biblical and Reformed paths.

For what it's worth...

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

10:44 PM, November 14, 2008  
Blogger Dennis said...

My concern about all this is how divorce is treated in the church. To the best of my recollection, I have never heard a sermon against divorce. As far as I know, the reason for that is that every church contains divorced persons, and they might be offended.

Now extend that to practicing homosexual persons. We evangelize them and make them members. Now will there be no sermons against homosexual practice in the fear that certain members will be offended and leave?

How about sexual practices in general? Do we hear many sermons about that? I think there are few sermons on economic injustice. In other words, there is a risk that the Gospel will not be fully preached when we include sinners in our churches who continue in their sinning. This risk gets stronger when one considers persons who believe that homosexuality is 'who they are', not their sin.

I think that committing one's life to Jesus should result in a changed life. So I wonder, Jim, if by evangelizing homosexuals, you mean that they will change their lives and turn away from homosexual behavior when they commit to Christ and join the church. Or do you mean that they are included in the life of the church while remaining practicing homosexuals?

I can confess that I have not been able to resolve this question myself. And I still struggle with the divorce issue. I am not personally divorced; I have been married to the same woman for 42 years. But divorce has impacted my family and every church of which I have been a member. Every one of these churches has included members who are true saints of the church, and divorced. And yet, our reference point, Christ's words in scripture is against divorce.

Dennis Veith
Ferndale, WA

11:25 AM, November 15, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

[Susan Andrews has been unable to post this comment, so I am posting it for her. --Jim Berkley]

Dear Jim:

As usual, you have taken a comment of mine out of context. Since you were not at the Evangelism Consultation at Stony Point, I think it would have been helpful if you had talked to me first. The quote that Bill Lancaster used was the least important thing I said--and not
representative of the consultation. (I wish he had commented on the 45 minute Bible Study I led--based on Acts 8!)

There were 75 people from all over the country who came to the Consultation at their own expense - because they were all passionate about evangelism--including me. Conservative, liberal, and in between we all gathered because we want the PCUSA to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ in public and personal ways. I am not a feel-good, embarrassed-about-Jesus liberal--and I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that I talk about all the time.

My question was just that--a question with the opportunity for a variety of answers. It came at the end of a four-person panel where people representing different kinds of churches and different understandings of evangelism gave testimonies to their evangelism witnesses. One of the panelists talked about reaching out intentionally to a variety of people--poor, racial ethnic, professionals, gays and lesbians, etc. So, I followed up with my question: "Do you (all four of them) believe that reaching out to gays and lesbians can be a form of evangelism?" The answers were varied--and then we moved onto other issues--the role of testimony, the importance of spiritual disciplines, the importance of telling stories about Jesus, etc. The whole consultation excited the participants--and there was much passion, energy, and recommitment to intentionally calling people into discipleship--the point of "Growing the Church: Deep and Wide." Since "diversity" is one of the four channels included in the GA call to "deep and wide." I do not believe my question was out of line.

Jim, I am tired of being branded as a gooey, anything-goes liberal. I am almost puritanical when it comes to sexual ethics--and have spoken out forcefully against promiscuity, adultery and sexual license (and went on national television to condemn Bill Clinton's immoral behavior when he was president). In a presbytery that has all too often turned a blind eye to sexual misconduct, I have helped to institute policy and procedures that turn that tide. Where you and I disagree, Jim, is on the sinfulness of homosexuality (and both of us have strong biblical roots for our beliefs, as you know). But though I do not believe that homosexuality is a sin, I do believe that GLBT folk are bound by the same covenant ethic that heterosexual people are bound to--faithful, monogamous, and chaste behavior.

I hope those who read this blog will learn the full expanse of what happened at Stony Point (look for Jack Haberer's report in Outlook), It was the rebirth of Presbyterian passion for evangelism--shared by liberals, conservatives, and those in between. And I think most of us believe that the call of the church is to move beyond sexuality arguments in order to agree on the central call of the Good News--to proclaim Jesus as Lord.

Blessings - Susan

Susan R. Andrews
Ossining, New York

3:18 PM, November 15, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Dennis,

If the argument is that we have done a poor job with the morality of divorce (and I would agree that we have), the solution would not to mirror it with an equally bad--if not exceedingly bad--job with homosexual practice.

It would seem to me that the right thing to do would be to be upright on homosexual practice AND to correct a morally lax attitude toward divorce. Anything God hates, we shouldn't embrace.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

3:38 PM, November 15, 2008  
Blogger Jim said...

Dennis,

One more thing: You asked if by evangelizing homosexual persons I meant their turning away from homosexual practice and turning toward Christ. I do mean that.

To become a Christian is to turn our lives over to Jesus Christ. We no longer rule our lives as autonomous entities; we allow Jesus Christ to be LORD of our lives. LORD! The Lord is the one in control, and thus all aspects of our living ought to conform to the Lord's will.

Conversion happens in a moment, but living out the full ramifications of that conversion--sanctification--takes a lifetime of surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, as with any other sin, homosexual practice must be confessed (one needs to agree with God that it is sin), it must be repented of (one must turn from it), and it must be actively avoided (one must rely on the Spirit to help one win the battle against it). As with any sin, there will probably be failures. That's where confession and repentance and active avoidance become repeat necessities.

But if church membership is based on making Jesus LORD, then lifestyle and behavior are terribly important. Jesus is not truly LORD of my life if I insist on doing what I want rather than what my Lord and Master wants.

Thus, while everyone should be invited to come to church as seekers and treated with care and compassion, only those who have decided to surrender to Jesus' lordship ought to be made members. And making Jesus Lord involves renouncing sin--even the really tough ones that Satan would love to convince us that we could never give up. We can. We should. We must.

Jim Berkley
Bellevue, WA

3:51 PM, November 15, 2008  
Blogger Walter L. Taylor said...

Susan Andrews said:
"And I think most of us believe that the call of the church is to move beyond sexuality arguments in order to agree on the central call of the Good News--to proclaim Jesus as Lord."

Whenever those of us who believe something really is at stake in sexually morality hear words like those above, what we hear is, "Get over it. We are going to bury you and move beyond you.So just face the music and get over it." What Rev. Andrews doesn't grasp is we cannot agree on the "central call of the Good News--to proclaim Jesus is Lord" when at the same time we run roughshod over his Word and effectively make ourselves lords over our own lives and sexuality.

Of course, perhaps I am like my brothers and sisters in Kenya, and still a bit of an ecclesiastical "adolescent."

4:27 PM, November 15, 2008  
Blogger Dennis said...

Thanks, Jim! You wrote some good and thoughtful words.

Dennis Veith
Ferndale, WA

7:03 PM, November 16, 2008  
Blogger Cameron Mott said...

Has anyone ever heard of the unScripturely divorced or unScripturely remarried divorced [or their spouses or ex-spouses] being denied ordination, or having charges brought against them, because of divorce?

Paola, KS

7:44 PM, November 16, 2008  
Blogger Presbyman said...

Cameron,

In this denomination? No.

In the EPC and PCA (and other conservative bodies)? Most definitely.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

8:49 AM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger Presbyman said...

BTW, that is something that frustrates me, because, gosh darn it, the progressives have a point when they point to our acceptance of divorce as making us hypocritical when we then oppose homosexuality.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

8:52 AM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger ZZMike said...

I have no idea where kattie comes up with this "they can't join" idea. There's nothing about not joining.

I'm relatively new to the Presbyterian church, but the only things I had to do was be baptized (taken care of a very long time ago), and get put on the member's list. The questions asked in order to get through that second hurdle were not that hard.

Dennis also points that out.

The other argument here seems to be whether we're hypocritical when we allow divorced - and even single! - people to be ordained, when we draw the line at homosexuals. My goodness, we even allow women to be ordained, which would have clearly sent Paul into conniptions (unless, of course, we read Paul carefully).

And what about the other line (long since erased) about the dietary laws? Didn't Jesus say "not one jot or tittle of the law" would be changed?

When we join a church, and expect to rise in the polity of the church, there are things we have to give up and leave behind us.

Life is a series of choices, and each choice takes us down one road and not another. When we choose to marry, we give up the bachelor life-style. When we choose to start and run a small business, we give up a lot of things. Weekends off, for one. Whether we choose to join the military or not join, we give up a lot of things that the other path shuts off from us. Most people - and all the ones I know - embrace that choice and give themselves freely to the work that lies ahead.

Life is not a "Me first, I want it all now" affair.

I'm really astonished by mac's comment. That man has no business being a pastor or a minister. One of the main jobs of a pastor is to lead people to Christ. You were certainly right to leave that church, but I can tell you definitely that our pastor would not put up with such a man.

12:58 PM, November 18, 2008  
Blogger Mariam said...

Dennis makes a wonderful point about how sermons on divorce and sexual morality seem to be rapidly disappearing in mainline churches where members would feel targeted and be offended. There is no denying this trend and its applicability to gay members in the pews.

As for ordaining the divorced and remarried, I agree with John that it is problematic, but I do like to tell people that divorce nearly always involves repentance (admittedly sometimes of the wrong sort), is never planned on being repeated, or, much less, seen as an ongoing life-pattern or identity.

Mariam Touba
New York City

2:52 PM, November 21, 2008  
Blogger Cameron Mott said...

Even though divorce is one of the very few sins I've not committed [yet] I don't like talking about other people's sin because it has a way of eventually leading to discussion of my sin. However…I don’t see how one can be in an unScriptural remarriage and claim to be in repentance of the adultery of remarriage at the same time and allowed to be immune to our chastity/fidelity standards for ordination. Maybe I just need instruction on how I’m wrong-headed.

Bro. John, I’d have to see some hard facts for the EPC and PCA; a policy doesn’t mean enforcement and I don’t have any reason to believe they are much/any less hypocritical/apostate on this issue than any other denomination.

Paola, KS

3:00 AM, November 24, 2008  

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