Category Archives: Marriage

Book review: A Place At His Table

A Place at His Table: A Biblical Exploration of Faith, Sexuality, and the Kingdom of God.

By Joel Hollier.

Genre: Christian living / Social Issues

Size: 232 pages, but didn’t feel dense.

What’s the big idea: A same-sex attracted pastor and fellow bible college graduate, having imbibed in the new wave of academic literature arguing that the Bible does not condemn “faithful, covenanted lesbian and gay relationships”, re-presents their arguments and calls for others to join the increasingly vocal movement of “affirming Christians” across the Western world.

Who I’d recommend it to: Joel addresses people and questions that are very important, and Christian leaders ought to take note of the arguments presented as they filter into church and denominational life. Unfortunately, I can’t recommend his book as a faithful exploration of the Bible’s teaching on faith, sexuality and the kingdom of God (though there are good alternatives – see below for suggestions).

Detailed thoughts: These days, the “I changed my mind” story seems to capture society’s attention, and within Christian circles it’s no different. Whether it’s Josh Harris, Rob Bell or someone else, in our social media-saturated world it’s become common in the Christian scene for a public figure to announce their change in direction before supporters and detractors alike.

Joel Hollier is no celebrity, but he is a mutual friend and fellow Bible College alumni (in Chinese parlance, my 學長). While I don’t yet know Joel personally, I read his book with a common interest and experience in sharing the hope of the risen Jesus with same-sex attracted friends and family – not as objects of scorn, but people to be loved. While space limits a detailed review that his volume deserves (though I trust other more gifted thinkers will share these in due course), I hope the following summary and thoughts serve as a helpful and civil first attempt.

“A Place At His Table” is divided into three uneven sections. Part 1 — largely autobiographical — recounts across four chapters Joel’s journey of growing up as same-sex attracted within the Sydney evangelical church scene. Already, Joel’s prose is warm, engaging, lucid and personal. It was heartwarming to hear of his parents and their gospel-shaped witness, and of studying theology in a space “surrounded by men and women who sharpened me and carried me” – a shared experience. It was heartbreaking to discover that it was during his time at college that he began to question and revisit his theological conclusions about the Bible’s teaching on sexuality – sex as God’s gift to be enjoyed in the context of marriage between a man and a woman. (As an aside, when sexual ethics appears once in class, and Romans 1 gets just an one hour of translation and exegesis time, perhaps we’ve missed the mark).

Part 2 (the bulk of the book) devotes a chapter to each of the six biblical passages usually brought to bear on the issue of same-sex relationships (Genesis 1-2, 19, Leviticus 18 and 20, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10, Romans 1:18-32). I’ll try to explain and comment on each chapter individually with the caveat that there’s much more to say that I can’t for space and time.

Chapter 5 seems dull but is actually the most important chapter of the book as Joel explains his hermeneutic (method of working out what Scripture means). He wants readers to move past “what it says in ink to what it means in my life”, citing commands like Levirate marriage, greeting each other with a kiss and as examples that we already don’t apply all Biblical texts at face value. What Joel (and the authors he rephrases) propose readers do with the passages that plainly proscribe (forbid) certain sexual behaviours is to search for context (e.g. other erotic Ancient writings) that will narrow their applicability for today in place of an underlying “moral principle”. My main objection to utilising the hermeneutic Joel lays out is that by asking readers to make a bee line to an abstracted “moral principle” each time, we risk reducing the moral force of the Bible further than the author intended. While Joel rightly illustrates that some laws require cross-cultural application (e.g. the Levirate marriage system as care for widows), there are nevertheless plenty of biblical laws that communicate, in and of themselves, enduring and transcultural moral principles (the Ten Commandments as a case in point). Readers are also meant to assume the biblical authors have used words and phrases in line with other Ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman literature.

In Chapter 6, Joel argues that Genesis 1-2’s account of Adam and Eve, rather than establishing a normative mandate for monogamous, heterosexual marriage, presents the first “kinship” union, and “there is no indication that subsequent kinship unions must align with their heterosexual nature”. Others (e.g. Todd Wilson, Preston Sprinkle) have critiqued the Genesis 1-2 kinship argument so I won’t rehash them here. But missing from the discussion was whether being “male and female in the image of God” includes our biological differences. The Christian worldview maintains that embedded in each person’s anatomy and personality is a biological complementarity with the opposite sex. If “kinship” is the definitive prerequisite of a one-flesh union, does it not open the door for any relationship that one subjectively feels is deep kinship to be included (e.g. mother and child, three people)? Unlike Joel, I’m still convinced that Genesis 1-2 offers a normative framework of a male-female exclusive relationship (as I believe others like Jesus and Paul do when they cite this passage in the context of husbands and wives – not kin in general).

In Chapter 7, Joel recounts the Genesis 19 narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah. Here I’m with Joel that people are too quick to wield this narrative as a fiery condemnation of homosexual practice. When read with other OT narratives (e.g. Genesis 6:1-4, Judges 19-20), the sexual immorality illustrates the extent of Sodom and Gomorrah’s evil, which is also evidenced by their lack of hospitality for the sojourner, wanton violence and general wickedness (which the rest of the Bible and other early church Fathers delve into). The hermeneutical step Joel then takes though is to only focus on the “driving moral principle” of God taking seriously the treatment of the marginalised. While it’s a biblical principle Christians must do much better with, I’m not convinced that it’s therefore the only sin God has in view when the city is punished. Also, Joel’s argument here (and subsequently) that only non-consensual sexual assault is condemned here and not “loving, monogamous self-giving relationships” is ultimately one from silence (akin to replying to a recipe stating “don’t add sugar” with “but it didn’t say sweetener, did it?”).

Chapter 8 features Joel’s turn at being Old Testament lecturer, as he wrestles with Leviticus 18 and 20 and the surrounding context. His main argument is that where the text reads “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman”, we should read it either as a time-bound cultural worship practice, or patriarchal power-shame act. Again, Joel assumes the biblical author’s choice of case law is motivated by the exploitative practices of surrounding nations, when the text itself says no such thing. He appeals to context to soften the force and severity of what “abomination” means, then brings in a critique against the threefold use of the Law to conclude that “it is a stretch to apply the Levitical laws (Lev 18:22, 20:13) to faithful, mutually-giving, same-sex, monogamous relationships”. Ironically, while correctly summarising Leviticus’s timeless cross-cultural message that Yahweh is a protective, jealous God deeply concerned with the holiness of His people and their distinctiveness from the nations, Joel nevertheless wants readers to capitulate to our culture’s obsession of ascribing one’s personhood and worth to what our sexual desires and practices dictate. While well-intentioned, Joel is ultimately asking us to believe that we should we free to live according to our sexual desires. That, too, is idolatry.

Enter Chapters 9 and 10, and Joel tackles the appearance of same-sex prohibitions in the Apostle Paul’s writings: namely, the vice lists of 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10, and the opening chapter of Romans. Largely Joel appeals from extra-biblical literature to assert that malakos and arsenokoitai denote abusive sexual activity linked to temple prostitution, and argues that the “unnatural” (para physin) in Romans 1 refers to exploitative practices. Again, he asserts all these terms exclude those in monogamous relationships. There is a fair amount of conjecture that Paul could not have known of a consensual gay relationship (despite Romans 1:27 clearly stating that they burned with passion “for one another” (mutuality and consent implied there!) My objection is that ultimately, Joel’s argument seems to be that first-century Greco-Roman society had no concept of same-sex monogamous marriage; therefore, it’s not forbidden. But there remains no example of God blessing any same-sex practice, whether within Paul’s cultural milieu or ours. Rather, a plain reading of the New Testament sees all Christians — myself included — as sexual sinners, called to submit to God’s good design for each of His image-bearers: fidelity in marriage, celibacy in singleness, for His glory and our joy.

Chapter 12 is largely an apologetic for Joel (and others’) reframing and reinterpretations of Scripture. He argues that homosexuality falls in the same category as slavery and women’s rights. Others (e.g. Keller) have critiqued this kind of attempt at re-categorising same sex relations, but it betrays the assumption that permitting same-sex marriage has become a justice issue. I can understand a secularist to hold this view: I’m saddened that it’s a view increasingly promoted within Christian circles, and betrays our uncritical acceptance of the late-modern narrative that our identity is fundamentally ours to decide and shape (the “this is me” doctrine). At one point, Joel even commits reductio ad Hitlerum and infers that Christians holding a traditional sexual ethic is akin to the Nazis’ (mis)use of Scripture to justify the Holocaust, because both “breed death and perpetuates division”. For pastors and friends who have sympathised and struggled alongside LGBT friends for years, this kind of fallacious rhetoric is unhelpful and deeply concerning.

Part 3 closes with three chapters (13-15) where Joel the activist calls readers to action and walks through next steps. He wants Christians to accept and adopt the “affirming” view of same-sex relationships, to advocate for this position in their churches, and to join the “movement” for change – even including sample letters to parents, pastors, allies etc.

Some other observations I had while reading Joel’s book:

  • More than once, Joel relegated what I thought were strong counter-arguments to footnotes with summary-form dismissals. In a listicle age, this kind of special pleading can be a dangerous habit, and I’d have preferred all sides be given equal air time / font size.
  • I was surprised that there was just one mention of interaction with key Greek and Hebrew dictionaries (BDAG, HALOT) – perhaps too nerdy, but perhaps they’re not as conclusive as Joel would like?
  • This is a book that Christian leaders should expect those they care for will come across at some point. It’s particularly persuasive given that Joel uses the same language and jargon as conservative evangelicals, and cites broadly (Carson et al. all get a mention, though rarely about the arguments directly).

Conclusion: While I’m thankful for the time and care Joel has put in to present his story and arguments winsomely, I’m unconvinced that the “affirming” view comes from a responsible handling of Scripture. Other books I’d recommend wholeheartedly (also from same-sex attracted authors) include Sam Allberry’s “Is God Anti-Gay?” [my review] and Rosaria Butterfield’s “Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert”. I’m also working through Ed Shaw’s “The Plausibility Problem”, which Joel himself recommends.

In an age of mea culpas, perhaps it’s too much to hope for a change of change of mind from Joel (though that’s my sincere prayer). Yet perhaps an appeal for a change of heart towards biblical faithfulness is best expressed by Joel himself – as captured in his own words from an earlier piece (which I quote at length):

“…The call for a broader theology of sexuality and celibacy is vital for both the demythologizing and de-idolizing of marriage, and likewise for the reassertion of singleness as a divinely endorsed life. Within this, a strong stance against the sexual essentialism of the modern West must hold forth the distinction of sexuality and personhood, affirming the fundamental identity of the Christian as united with Christ.

With this theology as a firm grounding, the pastor must be prepared to engage with those struggling with same sex attraction from an informed understanding of the presence of loss and its subsequent grieving process. It is only once these are seen in conjunction with the young adult’s identity dissonance that rounded care can be given. And finally, in line with the Biblical understanding of God’s people as both the body of Christ and as a spiritual family, the church must be prepared to engage in intimate friendships with same-sex-attracted young people in new and creative ways.”

Joel Hollier, Will You Walk With Me? MDiv Thesis 2017, 30-31.

Unpacking Baptist Hui 2015

Photo: Pakuranga Baptist Church, facebook page

It’s been a couple of days since the 2015 Baptist Assembly/Hui, held from Thursday to Saturday in Tauranga, New Zealand. While there was a well-thought out and interesting programme around the theme “humility, unity and intimacy”, the key issue on the table was a discussion and vote regarding same-sex marriages on Friday 6 November.

The outcome was that the Baptist Union of New Zealand voted in favour of three resolutions: upholding a biblical definition of marriage as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman; affirming that NZ Baptists will not conduct same-sex marriages or allow our properties to be used for same; and not nominating marriage celebrants who conduct same-sex marriages to the Registrar of Marriage (in the first instance).

Even before mainstream media outlets reported on this, the results (including voting percentages) had already been leaked online in an article titled “Baptists add threats to gay marriage opposition”:

The first resolution says “The Baptist Union of NZ Assembly 2015 continues to uphold the sanctity of the biblical understanding of marriage, understood as a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman”. It passed with a 97 per cent of the vote in favour.

The second resolution affirmed that no Baptist Church will conduct same-sex marriages or allow properties to be used for same-sex marriage services. This resolution passed with 83 per cent of the vote in favour.

The final resolution, passing with 78 percent of the vote in favour, and perhaps the most revealing of all three, stated: “If a Baptist celebrant conducts a same-sex marriage ceremony, the marriage celebrant, in the first instance, will no longer be nominated to the Registrar of Marriages by the Baptist Union of NZ.”

There’s lots of things spinning around in my head and my recall isn’t that fantastic, so please don’t see what follows as an official account of what took place (I hope the BU will publish an official statement soon). I’ve chosen not to name names and churches (except my own) – please also note that I’m not speaking on behalf of my church here. This is my own attempt at thinking through a complex, difficult issue that involves real people, real families and real communities. Also, apologies for any typos or grammatical mistakes – I’m rushing through a whole bunch of writing today.

Background

In April 2013, the New Zealand parliament voted to pass into law the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill, making New Zealand the 13th country in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalise same-sex marriage.

Intending to protect Baptist churches concerned about being forced to perform a marriage between same-sex couples, the Assembly Council (an elected body representing Baptist churches in the Baptist Union of New Zealand) brought to the annual gathering of BU churches two motions for ratification:

  1. That Baptist pastors do not conduct same sex marriages or use their properties for the same.
  2. That a Working Party would be established to canvas Baptist churches about the issue of same-sex marriage and autonomy

During the November 2013 business meeting (held in Manukau), the first motion was immediately amended from a prohibition to a “recommendation”, which was subsequently voted through (I wasn’t at this meeting; you can read more about it here).

Over the next 2 years, the Working Party received verbal and oral submissions, produced a report, from which the Assembly Council brought three resolutions to this year’s meeting.

What happened at the meeting

Interest for the meeting was high, with over 600 delegates registered (more than double the usual attendance – certainly more than last year’s Assembly at Waitangi). Registered delegates were permitted into the meeting room. I met quite a few people who had come along just to watch the debate (“I’m here for the bunfight”, said one person in jest). It was probably wise that they weren’t allowed into the meeting room (there was a live feed available instead). Journalists were explicitly asked to leave the meeting, and filming was prohibited. As voting delegates, we were each handed a green A5 sheet with the resolutions on one side, and Yes / No boxes on the reverse to indicate our vote on the resolutions as framed during the discussion.

Three resolutions were tabled, and delegates were allowed to speak to each one (we only learned this on the day). Ian (one of our elders) had the opportunity to speak on Resolution 1, while I spoke on Resolution 2 (you can read it here). Over 30 different speakers took the floor – I think in general, people were a lot more prepared compared to the 2013 discussion.

Voting was by secret ballot at the end of the meeting. HBC’s delegates voted in favour of all three resolutions, in line with our church’s stance on the issue.

During the discussion I tried to note down who spoke and the positions expressed.

For Resolution 1 (what the biblical definition of marriage should be), 8 delegates spoke in favour of the resolution, 3 spoke against the resolution (and in favour of same-sex marriages performed in Baptist churches), with one unclear. The main arguments in support were an appeal to the Scripture’s teaching on sexuality, a need to hold God’s love and holiness together, and a need to uphold the historical, orthodox view of marriage. The main arguments against Resolution 1 were that “it was a secondary matter of faith” that churches in Union could disagree on, that we are all sinners, and that it would be unconstitutional and un-Baptist to legislate against what a local church had decided on. To be honest, I expected the speakers against to bring forward more arguments concerning the Biblical texts, instead of focusing largely on autonomy, constitution and procedural issues.

The discussion on Resolution 2 (therefore, Baptists will not conduct same sex marriages etc) turned out to be where much of the manoeuvring and debating took place. There were 15 speeches in total during this section. Half of those who spoke on Resolution 2 opposed and/or wished to amend Resolution 2. Some disagreed with it in line with their opposition to the first resolution, but for quite a few others, the point of contention was that while they were not in favour of same-sex marriages, they felt it went against the spirit of “Baptist autonomy” to make a binding decision affecting other churches who disagreed. “Why can’t we be both/and?”, said one speaker. The argument that came through in support of Resolution 2 was that “it’s better to be Biblical than Baptist”, i.e. the principle of autonomy should not override the clear teachings of Christ.

During the discussion on resolution 2, a proposed amendment to change the wording from “will not conduct same-sex marriages” to “recommend that we not conduct…” was tabled (it was quite nerve-wracking having to speak straight after this pastor!) It got a bit complicated after this but the Chair was helpful, explaining that speeches needed to address the amendment.

After a nervous wait, the amendment was eventually voted down on a show of hands. Here’s the enduring image from the meeting etched into my mind: a sea of green voting papers, raised into the air to oppose the amendment, flags held high by the silent majority. I think that was the moment when you felt like the three resolutions were going to make it through.

There was another amendment on resolution 2 for minor word changes (affirms rather than agrees together; buildings to properties) that did go through. I felt the person who made the amendment broke standing orders though (he started with a “point of order” and then proposed the amendment – essentially jumping the long queue of people who had been patiently waiting to speak).

I found it harder to follow the discussion on resolution 3 (pastors who conduct same-sex marriages would no longer be nominated to the list of BU celebrants) – perhaps because I was hungry for lunch! I think there were about a half dozen speakers. The first was an amendment that tried to take out the phrase “in the first instance” from the wording; that was voted down. Following that, there were a few more speakers both for and against, with the last one being particularly upset that Baptist delegates were so interested in this issue but not others.

Encouraging things

In no particular order, here’s what I found encouraging:

  • The process wasn’t rushed. Someone once complained to me that it was ridiculous for the Baptist Union to take 2 years to “work out” an issue that was crystal clear in the Scriptures. And while his point had merit, I do think that by taking the time and inviting as many churches and individuals to participate in the process, we ended up with a result that truly reflected the majority NZ Baptist heart and mind concerning autonomy and same-sex marriage, and therefore a much stronger mandate for the resolutions.
  • There wasn’t a hateful attitude towards the LGBT community. Throughout the debate and in the months prior, I didn’t see anything that could be described as “gay-hating” (as one delegate put it). The mover of the three motions noted from the start that we have often not loved our LGBT friends and family as we ought. One speaker, representing the LGBT community as a practising homosexual, was warmly applauded. The majority of speakers were clear, compassionate and gracious in tone. In fact, the most strident and angry-sounding speakers tended to be those opposed to the resolutions (particularly towards the end of the meeting). Many spoke of how this issue affected them personally, with friends, family, and members of their churches. In particular, one speaker for resolution 2 explained that all of us had sin to repent of, and that we would do well to adopt Jesus’s approach of loving someone and calling them to turn from idolising something (e.g. the rich young ruler in Mark 10 – “Jesus looked at him, and loved him” – then called him to give up the wealth he treasured above everything else). It was explained in such a loving and kind way – you could hear a pin drop in the room. It was good to have this kind of civility during such an emotionally tense discussion.
  • Belated ethnic voices. The working party report noted the missing voice of non-NZ European churches in the submissions it received. There weren’t many that spoke who could be considered non-Caucasian. But it was good to hear from one pastor who shared that his international congregation (including Asian, Latin American, Middle Eastern and African Christians) wanted certainty and clarity from all this discussion and supported all three resolutions. It’s reminded me that in many other denominations, it’s the Global South and countries like China and India that comprise the majority of active Christians. So I really appreciated that.
  • The meeting was well-run. Other than the point-of-order queue jump earlier on, I think the meeting was run quite well. Not an easy task for the Chairperson and the timekeepers. Volunteers helped to count votes and usher people to the right seats. All these little touches helped to make the meeting go more smoothly.

Concerns

Here are some concerns and questions I have coming away from the meeting (again, in no particular order).

  • Forgetting the missing category – I wish someone could have floated a fourth resolution along the lines of: “Baptists should sympathise with those who struggle with same-sex attraction, and with their families, even as we continue to encourage all Christians to live godly lives that conform to the clear teachings of Scripture.” (copied verbatim from our church’s members statement). We need to acknowledge that there’s another category between the sin of gay pride (in the vein of Glee) and the sin of homophobia/hate crime (in the vein of Westboro). While some speakers did well with this, I felt the underlying assumption for several speakers remained that same-sex attracted individuals were cases to be cured, rather than image-bearers whose biggest problem was unbelief, needing (like all of us) to repent from self-centredness and to find satisfaction in Christ alone. I personally know individuals who struggle with same-sex attraction but accept the gospel and strive to follow a life under the lordship of Christ. Sometimes I cringe at what we as Christians communicate in our category assumptions. Sam Allberry says it best: “All of us are sexual sinners.”  I love the work that goes on with groups like Livingout.org and individuals like Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield. I think their perspectives are largely MIA in our discussions.
  • The autonomy sacred cow – I found it concerning the number of speakers who appealed to the autonomy of individual churches as an irreversible trump card for the whole situation. Others have spoken well on this (e.g. here). The other line of thought frequently referred to during the debate was that the resolutions were illegal and unconstitutional. Is it illegal/unconstitutional for a voluntary association to set rules around its member churches? And maybe we’ve forgotten that Jesus was terribly unconstitutional (in the Pharisees’ eyes at least) for healing on the Sabbath, for forgiving sin, and ultimately for raising dead hearts to life. One speaker rightly suggested that perhaps autonomy is our denomination’s corban issue, where we’ve “let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions”. Autonomy shouldn’t override the clear teachings of Christ on the gospel, marriage, sexuality and faithfulness. That’s not autonomy; it’s anarchy.
  • The next generation – It seems like the under-30 age group was under-represented – both at the meeting itself and during the Working Party process. (Other than myself, there were only a handful of speakers that could be considered young adults). In addition, the younger generation that spoke during the meeting were mostly against the 2nd and 3rd resolutions. I feel like in 10-15 years time I’ll be in the minority group amongst my peers (not that it’s necessarily a bad place to be).
  • Carey cone of silence – Other than the Chair of the Working Party (an adjunct lecturer), not a single lecturer or staff member from Carey Baptist College spoke up during the meeting, or contributed publicly to the Working Party process. For a discussion that involved much theological wrestling, you would think that the NZ BU’s official theological college would have wanted to enter the discussion publicly, or to resource churches with their submissions and discussions in some way. It’s possible I’m wrong and that Carey did lots of speaking and teaching on this issue behind the scenes, or in individual churches. Maybe they were asked not to participate in the discussion. But I felt it was a noticeable cone of silence during the meeting itself, and in the lead-up. I hope in future the College plays a more active role (even to the general public) on other issues (e.g. euthanasia, poverty, refugees, sex slavery) – that would certainly help.

Standing firm within your denomination

I didn’t choose to be a Baptist – I pretty much fell into this denomination after becoming a Christian. Since then I’ve heard a range of views regarding the pros and cons of participating within a denomination that our church finds itself at odds with on a range of second-level issues (e.g. church leadership, spiritual gifts, nature of missions, etc). I’ve heard people who I respect implore us to “come out and be separate”, and other voices I respect that have encouraged us to “stay and influence”. It’s hard to say which is better at this point in time. But as long as our church can in good conscience remain in the Baptist Union, I think it’s important for us to be engaged as much as we’re able to in areas of shared belief and practice.

The discussion highlighted that many in the Baptist family are still focused on proclaiming Christ crucified for sinners. If that’s the case, then it’s worth being involved. I think the value is not in picking fights with the most strident voices in opposition, but to network and learn alongside the moderate majority, the brothers and sisters in the middle who are doing their best with what God’s given them in their area of God’s vineyard, who could be open to a more robust mutual confession. It’s much harder to do all that from the outside looking in.

The cost of following Jesus

I’m tired now, so I want to close this off. I write this with family I deeply love that affirm a gay lifestyle. I write this with friends who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. I write this as a dad struggling to raise my children to love the Lord completely – heart, mind, soul and strength. I write this as a sexual sinner myself. In Christ, there is forgiveness for all sins.

I write all this recognising that to the eyes of the watching world, much of the discussion and decisions regarding the same-sex marriage issue will sound punitive, vindictive and offensive. I’m very sorry if it reads this way. Three statements on paper looks very impersonal and clinical without the context of men and women who dialogued prayerfully, extensively, and graciously on the subject. Once the decision goes public, Baptist leaders and churches will be pilloried and mocked. I’m sure the media will be unforgiving.

But maybe that’s exactly where God wants us to be. After all, Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:26). And we’re warned: “Do not be surprised if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). Christians have never been promised an easy ride – “through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Our Saviour was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53).

For our Christian friends on the outside looking in, please remember Baptist leaders, pastors and churches in your prayers in the weeks ahead. And fellow Baptists, let’s also pray for those in other denominations wrestling through the same issue in their contexts (e.g. Anglicans with Motion 30).

Finally, I hope in all this, all of us remain fixed on the goal of clinging to the death and resurrection of Jesus as the only remedy for our sins – sexual or otherwise, and that we encourage one another to live godly lives that reflect the glory of Christ.

 


 

“…Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

 

 

Something greater than marriage

Our home church (Howick Baptist) belongs to the Baptist Union of New Zealand.

After our government’s decision to pass the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Act 2013, the Baptist Union met at the 2013 Assembly to consider its position on the matter. The delegates voted to affirm the current position on same-sex marriage, and resolved to set up a working party to consider the matters of same-sex marriage and church autonomy further.

The working party was appointed in March/April 2014, and submissions were invited up to 31 August 2014.

HBC’s submission to this working party included a members statement on marriage and sexuality, and an additional document that discussed local church autonomy in general.

The Working Party spent the first half of 2015 working through the submissions (both verbal and oral).

Last month, the NZ Baptist Union Working Party released their report on same-sex marriage and church autonomy and sent it out to churches for consideration ahead of the 2015 National Assembly. Our church family will be getting individual copies of the report and recommendations this Sunday.

Having read it, I can say that there’s quite a lot that’s good about the report. It’s well-written and carefully thought out. There are some areas where it doesn’t go far enough on, but that’s for our leadership to work through and respond to.

Yet I still think our church’s members statement explores all the issues around marriage and sexuality in a clear and gracious way.

In particular, Points 5, 8 and 9 are often forgotten amidst the discussion (with added emphasis in bold):

5. We must carefully distinguish between same-sex attraction and homosexual acts. Temptation, including sexual attraction, is not sin. Sin is yielding to temptation. Jesus himself was tempted, yet without sin (Matt. 4:1-11, Heb. 4:15). It is not a sin to be tempted in the area of same gender sex. Jesus sympathises with our weaknesses and promises to provide a way of escape in every temptation (1 Cor. 10:13).

8. The gospel is full of grace and truth. It is an offer of grace and forgiveness to all sinners, including homosexuals, as well as a call to live a holy life. It empowers us in the struggle to resist sin, including the sin of homosexual practice (1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:3-8; Tit. 2:11-13).

9. The church is to be a new community that resembles a family of brothers and sisters united in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit displaying deep relationships of love. Celibacy and singleness are to be celebrated and affirmed within the church family.

It’s concerning that some of the opposition to same-sex relationships I’ve heard from people is not really grounded in anything much more than the “yuck” factor. And it’s not good to hear the tone and tenor of Christians who oppose gay and lesbians as though they could never be God’s image-bearers, as though they’re not your friends, family, neighbours, or part of your church family. It can be as simple as the flippant “that’s so gay” comment, or just that you haven’t got an ongoing relationship with a single friend or family that identifies as same-sex attracted.

Could it be that in our efforts to defend marriage we end up putting it on a pedestal and worshipping it as the highest ideal of life? I mean, Jesus and Paul lived rich and full lives as single, celibate men.

My marriage to Cheryl is a good thing, but it is meant to point to something greater. As Christopher Yuan and Rosaria Butterfield put it:

“As important as earthly marriage and family are, they are both fleetingly temporary, while Christ and the family of God (the church) are wondrously eternal.”

Please keep the elders and leaders of Baptist churches across New Zealand in prayer as this topic will come to a head again later this year at the November Baptist Assembly. We also shouldn’t forget our friends in other denominations that will be wrestling with similar discussions (e.g. Anglican churches regarding Motion 30).

Most of all, please pray that we would all be clear and compassionate in all we proclaim and practice, for the glory of our Bridegroom Jesus.

More helpful reading:

  • Livingout.org – everything on here is fantastic and comes from same-sex attracted individuals who are striving to follow Jesus Christ
  • We are all messy – Rosaria Butterfield on loving our gay and lesbian friends

 

Wedding in Matakana

Matt and Ursula - Photo by Peter Somervell via Facebook
Yesterday I got the day off work and spent the day with Cheryl, E and others at a wedding. What a beautiful day!

Matt and Ursula (her mum’s an active member at HBC) were a neat picture of Christ and His Church (Eph 5:31-32). Was nice that many friends and family flew over from the UK to be a part. There were many personal touches that we enjoyed and appreciated such as bluebirds on the stationery, guests signing the English flag, bride and groom making their entrance to everyone blowing bubbles, the warm and touching speeches by the parents and the groomsmen.

Another neat thing was that we carpooled up to Matakana (90 minutes drive from East Auckland) with Peter and Francelle and enjoyed two hours of conversation with them – so valuable! Peter presented a concise but sharp message from Gen 2:25 and Colossians 3:12-19, it was very personalised to the wedding couple and so wonderful to see two followers of Jesus making a commitment to image the gospel “till death do us part”.

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I also had the privilege of leading a few songs during the ceremony (yes, we had that song I don’t like, but that’s OK!). The best part for me was watching Matt and Ursula sing, and really just joining in with their sung worship. I think when a bride and groom are singing passionately to Jesus with thankful hearts, it speaks volumes, especially in front of family and friends who aren’t Christians.

E was quiet during the service but oh so fidgety – Cheryl had to stop E from pulling the hair of people in front of her, touching their jackets etc. At the receptions, decided for lunch she didn’t want anything but chips either… so we ended her meal early. She got to see real horses (the wedding was held on a country park), a real fireplace, and lots of bubbles!

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Love weddings – stressful but beautiful!