I think it’s always important to revisit our understanding of salvation in light of the biblical teaching. There are just too many appealing counterfeits!
Just recently, Alan Manning Chambers, the president of Exodus International, a ministry designed to help gays exit that lifestyle announced that it would close its doors. He apologized to the gay community for whatever offense Exodus might have caused, saying:
· “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.”
Yes, we are all prodigals. We had all rejected God, slamming our door in His face (Rom. 3:10-18). Therefore, none of us deserve anything good from Him. Consequently, we all stand naked before Him in need of His mercy.
However, Chambers insists that “Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to…make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom.” Of course, none of us are worthy of the Kingdom. We all agree that inclusion must be a matter of His grace.
But does this mean that the church is never to “make [any] judgments?” Clearly, Jesus taught that the church must make judgments about sin, however distasteful this teaching has become today:
· “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. Truly I tell you, whatever [sins] you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Mat.18:15-18)
There are several judgments involved here. The offended party judges that a wrong has been done. He then confronts the alleged transgressor with his sin. Finally, the church will exercise the ultimate judgment of dis-fellowship if the offender remains unrepentant. If the offender refuses to repent (“listen”), the church will bind his sin. This communicates to the unrepentant that he is still in his sin before God, who has given the church the authority to express His own judgment.
After the risen Lord visited His fearful disciples locked behind closed doors, He commissioned them to make judgments:
· “If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (John 20:23)
Although I don’t think that God has given us the power to forgive sins – only He can forgive sins – He has given the church the authority to declare when sins are forgiven and when they are retained – to make judgments. Jesus has also given the church the authority to restore the repentant sinner:
· “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” (Luke 17:3-4)
Following the example of our Lord, we must pray for the unrepentant. However, we should not receive him back into fellowship unless he first repents. This is a matter of making judgments.
In contrast, Chambers declared:
· We’re not going to tell them how they should live…you are not the Holy Spirit. [Instead] We are called upon to proclaim the truth of who God is.
Clearly, “we are called upon to proclaim the truth of who God is.” However, in contrast with Chambers’ position, this includes an understanding of what God thinks about sin, confession and repentance. And rather than leaving these concerns to the Holy Spirit, we are required to be His ambassadors, bearing His message of reconciliation – a message that includes the requirement of repentance.
Chambers had previously stated that he doesn’t believe that repentance is a necessary condition for either salvation or fellowship. Instead, he believes that the church must “welcome everyone” into fellowship, regardless of whether or not they are repentant. For Chambers, setting aside this requirement represents “love unhindered.” Love, therefore, is a matter of accepting the unrepentant gay into the household of God, even if they refuse to repent of their lifestyle. Also, his stance against “making judgments” represents a complete rejection of any church discipline. (Ironically, Chambers was very critical of the church and also what Exodus had become!)
Well, isn’t it unloving to require the sinner to repent? Shouldn’t the church instead practice unconditional love by removing any barrier to salvation and fellowship? Not according to the Apostle Paul. He was very explicit about the need to make judgments:
· I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. (1 Cor. 9-11)
To our ears, this sounds unduly harsh. Yet Paul reasoned that this action, in the long run, is an expression of love. On many occasions he argued that if the church allows flagrant unrepented sin in its midst, it is calling for its own demise:
· You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?…“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough”…The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty. (Gal. 5:7-10)
Allowing a little sin would corrupt the church. He compared it to a little bit of yeast affecting the entire loaf of bread.
Paul also argued that allowing the unrepentant to go without correction could incur negative eternal consequences if he is allowed to continue uncorrected (1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Tim.1:20).
To not judge was to not love! James also taught that the church needed to correct those caught in sin:
· My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins. (James 5:19-20)
Contrary to the logic of our age, judging is actually loving. Calling the sinner to repentance might be the greatest gift we can give. Perhaps Chambers and Exodus hadn’t been loving towards gays. Chambers confessed that he hadn’t been honest about his own feelings. Such a confession is commendable. However, there is nothing commendable about substituting the logic of this age for Scripture by not calling our friends to repentance.
Repentance is relationally healing. It’s restorative! There is nothing that will restore my wife and I quicker than an honest and complete confession of sin! And sometimes we need to be confronted about sin before this healing can take place. The same pertains to the church. Sin spreads like a cancer. It must be identified and addressed. If we care, we will sometimes confront.
In the Book of Revelation, God confronted each of seven churches. This was followed by His demand that they repent of their sins, lest He would fight against them (2:16; 3:3) or bring great tribulation (2:22). God makes judgments; so must we!
In opposition to the spirit of this age, the two churches which judged its members were commended (2:2; 2:14), while the one church which failed to judge was condemned (2:20). Consequently, when we fail to address the sins of others, we are culpable before God.
Instead, Chambers chafes that the church has become “an institution of rules.” Although rules can become oppressive and discriminatory, following God’s “rules” is a matter of faithfulness when performed graciously. In fact, every institution needs rules; every encounter is based upon shared understandings and respect for certain boundaries – whether explicit or implicit. We must also respect God’s boundaries.
Repentance is not only necessary for salvation, as so many verses assert, the fruits of repentance are inseparable from a true and living faith. The Apostle John provided the church with a number of ways they could know whether they were saved or whether they needed to confess and repent:
· If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)
Walking in darkness is not an option. If we hope to be purified from sin, we must have a biblical trust in Christ – one that honors Him with our lives. If we are unwilling to honor Him, then we are simply unwilling to trust. Our behavior and our faith can no more be separated than removing our head from our body.
If I trust my doctor, I will do what he tells me to do. If I refuse, then I don’t really trust Him. If a gay trusts in Christ, he will attempt to do what Christ wants him to do. If he fails – and we all fail – he can confess his sins and be confident that he is forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:9). If he refuses to sincerely confess, then he shows that he doesn’t trust in the Lord. Instead, he has placed his trust in his own judgments.
We are deluding ourselves if we claim that we have a relationship with Him while we refuse to obey Him:
· Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.
If we refuse to live as Jesus did, we refuse Him! To truly love a gay person means to confront them humbly and patiently about their refusal, in hope that they will see the light and come to repentance. It’s our duty:
· And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
The sinner must come to repentance. This is the only way to be saved! To receive the sinner when the Lord does not receive him is to give him a false hope and to cheat him of the one true hope. Enabling the gay person is not love. Similarly, enabling the heroin addict is not love. Both require straight talk.
Faithfulness to our Lord will not win us friends. He never promised that it would:
· “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.”
The one who loves is often the one who is hated. That’s the lesson of the Cross.