The Restored Hope Network now has a website up with a doctrinal statement and details about the upcoming launch Conference. For those who haven’t been following the difficulties at Exodus, a number of affiliate ministries have left over Alan Chamber’s new stance and I’ve written about aspects of that change here and here.
The doctrinal statement on the RHN website is interesting because some of it is written in response to the theological conversations of the past year that Rob Gagnon and others have had with Chambers and his supporters. I thought it would be useful to work through it clause by clause to see what the RHN is saying and where the key areas of friction with the current leadership of Exodus lie.
We, the members of the Restored Hope Network, believe the core gospel about Godâ€™s graceÂ through faith in Jesus Christ: namely, that God has made Jesus Christ to be Lord over all, by sendingÂ him to suffer the penalty for our sins through his death on the cross and by raising him from the deadÂ to inaugurate the new creation (1 Cor 12:3; 15:1-8, 20-22).
Salvation is a gift that cannot be merited by human deeds (Gal 2:21; Rom 3:24-25; 5:15-16; 6:23; EphÂ 2:8-9) but naturally and progressively produces obedience as a fruit of the indwelling power of theÂ Holy Spirit (Matt 7:16-27; John 15:1-8; Gal 5:22-23). When believers succumb to sin, the kindness ofÂ God calls them to confession of sin and repentance (Luke 15:20; 17:3-4; Rom 2:4; 2 Cor 12:21; 1 JohnÂ 1:8-10; Rev 2:5, 16).
While we recognize that God can speak through nature, science, and experience, we regard theÂ Bible as Godâ€™s inspired word and as the highest authority in matters of faith and practice, as viewedÂ through the interpretive light that Jesus and the apostolic witness brought to the Old TestamentÂ texts. We also recognize the role of church tradition in safeguarding the integrity of Scripture and itsÂ moral code.
Whereas the Restored Hope Network primarily ministers in the area of sexual and relationalÂ wholeness, we deem it important to lay out in more detail foundational biblical principles regardingÂ sexual ethics.
It’s an interesting opening, stating clearly the Lordship of Christ, penal substitutionary atonement and salvation by grace through faith. Emphasis is made on the need for believers to repent when they sin, and this is a key point which the statement will return to later. Scripture is upheld as the highest authority and more than a glancing nod is given to the notion of the Church universal as the guardian and transmitter of Â truth. One detects the influence not just of Ron Gagnon in writing this but also Andy Chomiskey who has recently converted to Roman Catholicism.
1. Sexual purity is a life-and-death matter. Sexual holiness for Christians matters to such an extentÂ that a sexually immoral life can get even self-professed Christians excluded from the kingdom ofÂ God.
At the beginning of Matthewâ€™s Sermon on the Mount, two of Jesusâ€™ six contrasting statementsÂ defining the new ethic of the kingdom of God (â€œYou heard that it was said â€¦ but I say to youâ€¦â€)Â have to do with sexual purity. In between them appears this warning: If a body part threatens yourÂ downfall, remove it, because it is better to go into heaven maimed than to be thrown into hell fullbodiedÂ (5:29-30). Even in the story of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus tells the woman â€œGo, andÂ from now on no longer be sinningâ€ (John 8:11), a statement that, based on a parallel line elsewhereÂ in John, implies â€œlest something worse happen to you,â€ namely, forfeiture of eternal life (John 5:14;Â cp. 5:24-29).
The chief apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, routinely began ethical instruction of Gentile converts withÂ a command to abstain from sexual immorality, adding that those who did not do so â€œreject â€¦ GodÂ who gives the Holy Spirit to youâ€ and that â€œthe Lord is an avenger regarding all these thingsâ€ (1Â Thess 4:3-8). Paul typically led off his vice lists with idolatry and sexual immorality (porneia andÂ similar terms), in either order, insisting that converts not deceive themselves into thinking that theyÂ could engage in such behaviors and still inherit Godâ€™s kingdom (Gal 5:19-21; 1 Cor 6:9-10, 13-20; 2 CorÂ 12:21; Rom 1:23-32; Col 3:5-7; Eph 4:19; 5:3-6; 1 Tim 1:9-11). Paulâ€™s advocacy of church discipline in theÂ case of the incestuous man in 1 Cor 5, espousing the remedial measure of temporary expulsion fromÂ the life of the community, illustrates how seriously Paul treated high sexual offences in his churches.
I disagree fundamentally with the second sentence, but it is written in such a manner as to fudge the issue on “once saved always saved” and so to make critique hard. One wants to ask what is meant by a “self-professed Christian”. Is such a person actually a Christian and saved? From an “Eternal Security” stand-point, once one has been saved one is saved – period. Â The whole point of grace is that it saves regardless of the sinner it is saving. One does not merit salvation and one does not earn it or keep it by one’s moral actions.
So I’m happy to accept that the “self-professed Christian” may not actually be a Christian. There are plenty of clear examples of such men and women down the ages and we are warned in Scripture very clearly that the physical church is made up of wheat and tares and that wolves come in amongst the flock. No problem there. Neither do I have an issue that believers are called to live a life that reflects the holiness of a God who abhors sin. In this regard the doctrinal statement is correct to point out the church discipline envisaged by 1 Corinthians 5. But a careful reading of that chapter notes that the brother removed from the congregation is still called “brother”. The discipline is to remind him that he should be living a holy life but he is still regarded as saved, just not living as though that were so!
The fact that this is the first major point in the doctrinal statement indicates that for many in the RHN this is the area of major disagreement with Alan Chambers. One might suggest that a bit more clarity would therefore be needed – the phrase “self-professed Christian” is too ambiguous to clarify exactly what is meant. Certainly, despite denials from Gagnon and others that this is a split over the issue of Eternal Security the very impression given by placing this issue at the beginning of the first main section of the doctrinal statement is that this isÂ exactly the issue of discord.
2. Jesus understood the male-female prerequisite for sexual relations established by God inÂ Genesis 1:27 and 2:24 to be foundational for sexual ethics. Jesus declared the creation model ofÂ marriage in Gen 1:27 (â€œmale and female he made themâ€) and 2:24 (â€œfor this reason a man . . . shall beÂ joined to his woman and [the two] shall become one fleshâ€) to be normative for defining acceptableÂ sexual behavior (Mark 10:5-9; Matt 19:4-8). In Jesusâ€™ understanding, marriage was not a mere socialÂ construct but an institution established by God in creation as a lifelong covenant between one manÂ and one woman. Because â€œmale and femaleâ€ were designed by God in creation as a complementaryÂ sexual pair, only a man and a woman were capable of becoming â€œone fleshâ€ through sexual union.
The point is beautifully presented in transcendent images in Gen 2:21-24 where â€œwomanâ€ (ishshah)Â is depicted as coming from the â€œribâ€ or (more likely) â€œsideâ€ (Heb. tsela) of a till-then sexuallyÂ undifferentiated â€œhumanâ€ (adam, formed from the â€œgroundâ€ or adamah), thereafter differentiatedÂ as an ish or â€œman.â€ The threefold emphasis of woman as a being â€œtaken fromâ€ the human or manÂ underscores the point that the union of man and woman in marriage is the reconstitution of theÂ divided parts of a sexual whole. The image of one flesh becoming two sexes thus connects with theÂ principle of two sexes becoming one flesh. The woman is further characterized as manâ€™s sexualÂ â€œcomplementâ€ or â€œcounterpartâ€ (negdo), someone who both â€œcorrespondsâ€ to the man as a fellowÂ human while at the same time being â€œoppositeâ€ to the man in terms of sex or gender (2:18, 20).
Genesis 1:27, for its part, closely intersects image-bearing with male-female differentiation: â€œGodÂ created the human in his image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he createdÂ them.â€ Every other use of the expression â€œmale and femaleâ€ in the Old Testament connotes sexualÂ pairing (Gen 5:2; 6:19; 7:3, 9, 16). So its use in Gen 1:27 implies more than an affirmation that bothÂ males and females separately are created in Godâ€™s image. Violating a male-female prerequisite forÂ sexual relations would desecrate that image, among other sexual offenses. To be sure, as a singleÂ man, Jesus exemplifies the truth that marriage is not the only expression of image- bearing. EveryÂ human, regardless of marital status, bears Godâ€™s image. Nevertheless, Scripture reserves sexualÂ expression for marriage alone, in which the unitive bond between man and woman distills theÂ essence of image-bearing in the sphere of sexual union.
So foundational to Jesus was the principle of a male-female prerequisite for sexual relations thatÂ he predicated on the binary character of the sexes his view of marital twoness, that is, the limitationÂ of the number of persons in a sexual union to two, whether concurrently (no polygamy) or seriallyÂ (no revolving door of divorce and remarriage). He reasoned that the union of the two sexual halvesÂ into a sexual whole rendered a third sexual partner as not only superfluous but also undesirable. ForÂ Jesus, then, it was the logic of male-female sexual complementarity established at creation thatÂ necessitated a rigorous monogamy position. By implication, in Jesusâ€™ eyes homosexual practice wasÂ a graver offense than polygamy or a cycle of remarriages after divorces since it struck at the veryÂ foundation on which marital monogamy was based: a male-female prerequisite.
Yes, yes, yesÂ allÂ the way up to the final few sentences. Here the argumentation is tenuous. Whilst the off trotted out liberal phrase, “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality”, conveniently ignores that Jesus’ reference to porneia easily incorporates homosexual practice as part of the Levitical sexual code, it is dangerous to move from there into suggesting Jesus meant to imply specific things about homosexuality when he never addressed the issue directly but only indirectly. By all means use Paul’s proscriptions in Romans and elsewhere to make extended points on the issue, but the statement, “By implication, in Jesusâ€™ eyes homosexual practice wasÂ a graver offense than polygamy or a cycle of remarriages after divorces”, is baseless and even, provocatively, guilty of putting words into Jesus’ mouth which he never actually said.
3. Consistent with Jesusâ€™ view of a male-female requirement for sexual relations is Scriptureâ€™sÂ depiction of homosexual practice as a severe violation of Godâ€™s standards for sexual purity.Â Paul understood the implications of Gen 1:27 and 2:24 for prohibiting all homosexual unions. In hisÂ indictment of idolatry and homosexual practice in Rom 1:23-27, Paul intentionally echoed Gen 1:26-27,Â making eight points of correspondence in the same tripartite structure for these two sets of verses:Â (1) humans, image, likeness; (2) birds, cattle, reptiles; (3) male, female. The point for Paul was thatÂ homosexual practice was both a negation of Scriptureâ€™s â€œmale and female he created themâ€ and aÂ key example of suppressing the truth about human sexuality accessible in the material structures ofÂ nature to rational minds (compare the references to nature in 1:26-27 with 1:18-20). PaulÂ characterized homosexual practice as a â€œdishonoringâ€ of the sexual self and as a high instance ofÂ â€œsexual impurityâ€ and â€œindecencyâ€ since it treated the participantâ€™s masculinity or femininity as onlyÂ half intact in relation to oneâ€™s own sex. Paulâ€™s Scripture argument is at the same time a natureÂ argument, since it alludes to the natural complementarity of male and femaleâ€”anatomically,Â physiologically, and psychologicallyâ€”obvious in the material structures of creation.
Paulâ€™s other main indictment of homosexual practice, in the list of offenders in 1 Cor 6:9-10 whoÂ will not inherit the kingdom of God, links up with the other pivotal creation text, Gen 2:24, cited inÂ part in 1 Cor 6:16. The term that Paul uses for male homosexual practice, â€œmen who lie with a maleâ€Â (arsenokoitai) was coined from the words for â€œlyingâ€ (koite) and â€œmaleâ€ (arsen) used in the GreekÂ translation of the absolute prohibitions of male homosexual practice in Lev 18:22 and 20:13. Paul, inÂ applying to an indictment of homosexual practice both Gen 1:27 and Gen 2:24, the two key texts thatÂ Jesus defined as decisive for formulating rules for sexual ethics, showed himself to be a faithfulÂ disciple of Jesus.
Other data from Scripture also confirms the severity of the offense of homosexual practice. It isÂ listed among the first-tier, capital sexual offenses in Lev 20:10-16 alongside bestiality, incest withÂ parent or child, and adultery. In both Lev 18:22 and 20:13 it is specifically tagged with the termÂ toâ€™evah, â€œabomination,â€ â€œsomething abhorrent or detestableâ€ to God (similarly, Deut 23:18; 1 KgsÂ 14:23-24), a term that elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible is typically associated not with quaint dietaryÂ law but with high offenses such as idolatry, child sacrifice, murder, and oppression of the poor. As Â regards the story of Sodom (Gen 19:4-11; compare also the story of the Levite at Gibeah in Judg 19:22-25), the attempt of the men of Sodom to dishonor the male visitors by lying with them as thoughÂ they were women factors prominently in Godâ€™s destruction of the city, a point picked up also in laterÂ scriptural allusions (Ezek 16:49-50: â€œcommitted an abominationâ€; Jude 7: â€œcommitting sexualÂ immoralityâ€; and 2 Pet 2:6-10: â€œthe licentious conduct of the lawlessâ€ who â€œindulge the defilingÂ passions of the fleshâ€). Nor can it be argued that the rejection of homosexual practice was a minorityÂ viewpoint in ancient Israel. Every narrative, law, exhortation, proverb, piece of poetry, and metaphorÂ in the Old Testament having to do with sexual relations presupposes a male-female requirement.
Another indicator of severity comes by way of comparison to incest and polyamory (multiple-partnerÂ unions). Both incest and polyamory receive limited accommodations in ancient Israel: someÂ patriarchal relationships are later forbidden by Levitical incest law and polygamy on the part of menÂ is disallowed much later by Jesus. However, there was never any accommodation in ancient Israel toÂ homosexual practice, signaling the greater importance of a male-female requirement over even suchÂ concerns as monogamy and kinship-otherness. The male-female character of sexual relationships isÂ established from the beginning of creation and becomes the basis for prohibiting too muchÂ embodied sameness elsewhere (kinship) and limiting the number of persons in a sexual bond to twoÂ (monogamy).
Once again, good stuff. The point aboutÂ accommodationÂ with incest and polygamy but never homosexual behaviour is classic Gagnon and he’s absolutely right on this one.
4. Sexual immorality is by no means limited to homosexual practice but has multipleÂ manifestations in the heterosexual sphere that distort Godâ€™s purposes for sexual unions. EvenÂ though union with a person of the other sex is a necessary condition for a valid sexual relationship, itÂ is certainly not sufficient. Any expression of human sexuality outside the covenant of marriageÂ between one man and one woman, as well as any expression within marriage that is not self-giving,Â is a perversion of Godâ€™s will for sexual holiness.
This is not to say, as some falsely claim, that all sin is equal in all respects before the eyes of God.Â All sin is equal in this respect: any sin, no matter how small, can get the perpetrator excluded fromÂ eternal life if personal merit is made the basis for salvation. Yet clearly in Scripture some sins areÂ more foundational violations of Godâ€™s commands than others. Even so, lest heterosexual pride takeÂ hold, it is important to affirm that â€œall have sinned and fall short of the glory of Godâ€ (Rom 3:23).
Sexual sin and brokenness takes many different forms besides homosexual practice, ranging fromÂ the relatively rare (bestiality, incest, pedophilia, and rape) to the not uncommon (adultery,Â prostitution, fornication, divorce and remarriage-after-divorce) and, finally, to the very common. TheÂ very common areas of sexual sin and brokenness include lusts of the heart, manifested inÂ pornography and other sexual addictions; moreover, various kinds of sexual manipulation,Â domination, and control that are antithetical to the self-giving, other-centered, and committed loveÂ (agape) of Jesus Christ.
The fact that sexual sin is so pervasive to the human condition should engender humility inÂ interacting with those who commit less common, more severe sexual sins. However, it should notÂ lead to tolerance of the latter, as Paulâ€™s handling of the case of the incestuous man in 1 Cor 5 shows.Â There is no virtue to being more consistently disobedient to the will of God, especially in movingÂ from toleration of lesser offenses to toleration of greater offenses. The church must rather strive forÂ greater consistency in obedience, even as it continues to hold the line on foundational matters ofÂ sexual ethics. For instance, the fact that total abstinence from â€œadultery of the heartâ€ (Matt 5:27-28)Â is so difficult should not lead to greater tolerance for literal adultery of heart and body. The fact thatÂ the church has difficulty holding the line on serial polygamy (remarriage after divorce) should notÂ result in acceptance of something worse: concurrent polygamy or, for that matter, homosexualÂ practice (which implodes the male-female requirement on which an anti-polygamy principle isÂ based).
The church should neither dilute its ethical standards in a bid to show compassion to violators norÂ callously consign violators to hell in an effort to preserve standards. In Jesusâ€™ understanding lovingÂ outreach included reproof and correction. When he lifted up Lev 19:18b, â€œlove your neighbor asÂ yourself,â€ as the second greatest commandment (Mark 12:31; cf. Luke 10:27-28), he obviously had inÂ mind the immediate context in 19:17-18a (as we know other Jews of the period did). Loving oneâ€™sÂ neighbor included both â€œfirmly reprovingâ€ oneâ€™s neighbor so as not to â€œincur guilt because of himâ€Â (for failing to warn oneâ€™s neighbor) and not hating, taking vengeance, or holding a grudge againstÂ oneâ€™s neighbor. Jesus maintained both â€œif your brother sins, rebuke himâ€ and â€œif he repents, forgiveÂ him,â€ even â€œif he sins seven times a dayâ€ (Luke 17:3-4; cf. Matt. 18:15, 21-22). This command to rebukeÂ is not a contradiction of Jesusâ€™ words against judging others (Matt. 7:1-5 par. Luke 6:37, 41-42).Â Context and Jesusâ€™ own repeated judgments indicate that his criticism was aimed at overlyÂ punctilious, hypocritical, and loveless criticisms of others, not self-introspective and restorativeÂ rebuke of egregious sin.
Now we get to the meat of the issue. Nothing that is in this section is incorrect, but compare the reasoning to that made in an interview with Alan Chambers on the Janet Mefferd Show just a few days ago. Read the transcript of the exchange below.
Mefferd: If you believe that you have to turn from your sin and turn to Christ â€¦ how can you simultaneously hold that somebody who is an unrepentant homosexual can go to heaven?
Chambers: I donâ€™t think you know Justin Lee (founder of the Gay Christian Network). Justin is someone who identifies as gay.
Mefferd: But has he repented of his homosexuality?
Chambers: He is not involved in homosexual relationships. He is a celibate man.
Mefferd: But has he repented of his homosexuality?
Chambers: It depends on what you mean by repenting of homosexuality. Heâ€™s not involved in homosexuality.
Mefferd: OK. But he is not repentant about homosexuality being a sin? In other words, by your definition of repentance, he has not agreed with God on what God says about homosexuality.
Chambers: Right â€¦ What I think the crux of the issue is â€¦ I canâ€™t tell someone that they do know Christ or that they donâ€™t know Christ. What I believe about Justin, having had numerous conversations with him is that he knows Jesus, is that he has a relationship with Jesus Christ. I donâ€™t know what people do with Scripture on issues related to homosexuality or anything else where so clearly they are living differently than Scripture teaches. I canâ€™t say to Justin, you donâ€™t know Jesus.
Mefferd: Why not?
Chambers: Because I donâ€™t know that he doesnâ€™t know Jesus.
Mefferd: You could talk to him; you could probe what he believes. The fact that he is living â€¦ a celibate life is immaterial because if he says homosexuality is not sinful and something to be repented of and instead something to be celebrated so much so that he found something called the Gay Christian Network, that would indicate that he does not agree with God about homosexuality being sinful.
Now I’m struggling to find anything Alan Chambers says that is objectionable. He clearly states that he is of the opinion that Justin Lee is incorrect on his interpretation of Scripture. It’s absolutely certain that Lee knows that Chambers disagrees with him and that such disagreement is profound.Â The nuance though is the idea that someone who is unrepentant can or cannot “go to heaven”. The question has to be asked whether any Christian who believes something that is untrue cannot inherit the kingdom? Why is being wrong on this particular topic particularly egregious?
There seems to be a perception that Chambers is not willing to tell people that what they believe is incorrect or that what they are doing is sinful. I’m not so sure that is the case and the only thing that Chambers is obviously not willing to do is make judgement calls on other people’s salvation. The RHN doctrinal statement correctly argues that it is not incorrect to rebuke those who claim the name of Christ and yet live lives that seem to deny his saving and transforming power, but there is a missiological debate to be had as to how many times to rebuke and at what points. It strikes me that Chambers is struggling with that issue whereas the founders of the RHN have very certain answers.
5. Marriage between a man and a woman prefigures the union of God and his people or ChristÂ and the church and has as its highest purpose the self-giving integration of the two sexes intoÂ a single sexual whole. From the very be ginning Godâ€™s goal has been to enter into an eternalÂ covenant of marriage with those who love him (Hos 2:16-20; Jer 2:2; Ezek 16:8; Isa 54:5-8; 61:10; 62:4-5). At its best marriage between a man and a woman prefigures the marriage that will take placeÂ between Christ and the Church that consummates in the new creation (Rev 19:7-9; 21:2, 9; compareÂ Mark 2:19-20; Matt 22:1-14; 25:1-13; John 3:29; 2 Cor 11:2). In Eph 5:21-33 that image is carried forwardÂ especially in the case of husbands, who are called upon to â€œlove the wives, just as also Christ lovedÂ the church and handed himself over for herâ€; further, to â€œlove their own wives as their own bodies,â€Â just as Christ â€œnourishes and tenderly cares forâ€ the church, â€œthe members of his body.â€
Marriage provides intimate companionship (Gen 2:18) and an opportunity for procreation and theÂ raising of a family (Gen 1:26-28). Yet the highest purpose of marriage is hinted at in marriageâ€™s role inÂ prefiguring higher spiritual realities of the new creation, coupled with Jesusâ€™ seemingly unreasonableÂ insistence on marriageâ€™s indissolubility because â€œthey are no longer two but one fleshâ€ (Mark 10:8).
Marriage is Godâ€™s instrument for reuniting male and female into an integrated sexual whole. GodÂ designed marriage primarily for the purpose of shaping two into oneâ€”an aim more important thanÂ the satisfaction of the individual wants of husbands and wives. The extremes of each sex areÂ moderated and what is lacking in each sex is filled in a union of the two sexes.
6. Marriage and the sexual fulfillment that marriage offers have only penultimate. There are two sets of sayings of Jesus that caution significance against making earthly marriageÂ with its promise of sexual fulfillment an idol. He states that in their resurrected state people â€œneitherÂ marry, nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heavenâ€ (Mark 12:25 par. Luke 20:34-36; cf.Â 1 Cor 7:29, 31, 38). The inference is that earthly marriage will be superseded by something muchÂ better in the age to come: the heavenly marriage of the people of God to Christ.
The other set of sayings is the eunuch text of Matt 19:10-12 where Jesus lifted up abstinence fromÂ all sexual relations in singleness by referring to â€œeunuchs who make themselves eunuchs because ofÂ the kingdom of heaven.â€ For Jesus, marriage imposed special obligations and commitments thatÂ constricted oneâ€™s flexibility, time, resources, and risk-taking for advancing Godâ€™s work in the worldÂ (compare Paulâ€™s view in 1 Cor 7:28-35). The church should encourage the option of singleness inÂ order to facilitate undivided service of God. By the same token, the church should not bend theÂ requirements for marriage to comply with whatever preexisting sexual urges one has.
God gives some people the grace to marry and some people the grace to remain single (Matt 19:11;Â 1 Cor 7:7-17). The gift of celibacy involves a unique one-spirit partnership between an individualÂ human and God (1 Cor 6:17) that frees the creature to love and serve the Creator undividedly. AsÂ such, inspired celibates are a prophetic sign to every Christian of our future heavenly communionÂ with God when our only marriage will be with him (Mark 12:25).
Once again, Amen. Nothing in these two previous sections is objectionable in the slightest. It’s good, clear teaching on the Biblical nature of marriage.
7. Jesus Christ provides hope for transformation to broken sexual sinners. Jesus coupled aÂ heightened ethical demand with a loving and forgiving outreach to violators. His interactions withÂ the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50), the Samaritan woman (John 4:4-30), and the woman caught inÂ adultery (John 8:1-12) signify the extraordinary lengths to which Jesus went to lead sexual sinners toÂ repentance (Rom 2:4).
Yet the grace of God offered in Jesus Christ is not merely a pardon for oneâ€™s sins. To be â€œunderÂ graceâ€ and not â€œunder the lawâ€ is to be led by the power of the Spirit of Christ into a new life livedÂ for God (Rom 6:1-8:17, especially 6:14; 7:5-6; 8:12-14). â€œHis divine power has given to us all the thingsÂ needed for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us,â€ whereby we â€œmayÂ become participants in the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption in the world producedÂ by lustâ€ (2 Pet 1:2-4). And so we find our life and the power to walk in holiness in knowing him andÂ abiding in him.
For some, this transformation may take shape as a significant reduction, or even virtualÂ elimination, of unwanted sexual desires. For this reason we welcome ministries that seek to facilitateÂ incremental changes along a continuum from homosexual to heterosexual desires. For others,Â transformation may mean the grace to live in obedience in spite of ongoing urges to do what GodÂ expressly forbids. When Paul states in 1 Cor 6:11 that â€œthese things some of you were,â€ he does notÂ mean that God eliminates from believers all immoral sexual desires, greedy impulses, and urges toÂ say harmful things about those who mistreat us (6:9-10). Rather, he means that believers need noÂ longer be enslaved by sinful orientations. Paul gives believers assurance not that â€œthe fleshâ€ will stopÂ opposing the indwelling Spirit but rather that those who â€œwalk in the Spirit will not carry out theÂ desire of the fleshâ€ (Gal 5:16-17). It elicits no great praise from God to refrain from behavior that oneÂ has no particular desire to commit. The greatest â€œchangeâ€ comes when we obey God in spite of theÂ persistence of strong internal desires to do otherwise. This is the way of the cross and the path thatÂ leads to life. Over this the angels rejoice.
Godâ€™s grace is always â€œenoughâ€ or â€œsufficientâ€ for us because Godâ€™s â€œpower is brought toÂ completion in (our) weaknessâ€ (2 Cor 12:9-10). Similarly, â€œthe life of Jesus (is) manifested in ourÂ bodyâ€ as we â€œcarry around in the body the death of Jesusâ€ (2 Cor 4:10-11). Lifeâ€™s difficulties can feelÂ like â€œa sentence of deathâ€ but they serve the useful purpose in Godâ€™s sovereign plan of making usÂ â€œrely not on ourselves but on the God who raises the deadâ€ (2 Cor 2:9).
In the new creation (2 Cor 5:14-19) the repentant now walk as if raised with Christ (Rom 6:13) andÂ thus freed to resume the journey towards sexual wholeness. That includes freedom from theÂ domination of sinful desire and freedom for becoming a good gift to oneâ€™s own gender (nonsexually)Â and to the opposite gender. Jesus frees all who turn to Him to take their places as imagebearersÂ in good standing and to walk out the divine command to live interdependently as male andÂ female.
Jesus Christ is our hope for the redemption of our sexuality, gender, and bodies. He is the trueÂ image of God in humanity. His reconciling work on the cross establishes our hope for fullÂ reconciliation with Godâ€™s will for our sexual humanity (Col 1:15-20). But we mislead ourselves if weÂ expect God to rid us in this life of all our unwanted desires. Redemption is a progressive work. WeÂ will be complete only when we see him face-to-face (1 Cor 13:12; 2 Cor 3:18; 4:17-5:9). We rejoice in thisÂ hope (Rom 15:13), even as we groan inwardly while we await the full â€œredemption of our bodyâ€ (RomÂ 8:22-25).
There’s some great stuff in here and also some food for thought. There is a healthy acceptance that for some they do not see aÂ diminutionÂ in their sexual desires even after many years of discipleship. At the same time, I would want to explore what “enslaved by sinful orientations” means in practice. Is this slavery a slavery to practice that which one desires or is it to the desire itself? Does it require an intellectual affirmation of the correct sexual ethic or might it be enough to come to a position that one is unsure as to the correct answer and therefore one will remain celibate until there is greater clarity? What do we mean by “freedom from theÂ domination of sinful desire” and how does that impact upon those who the statement recognises struggle with same-sex attraction (or other immoral sexual desires) year in and year out? If redemption truly is a progressive work, how does one measure such progress? Behaviourally? Doctrinally? What is meant by “Â Jesus frees all who turn to Him to take their places as imagebearersÂ in good standing”? What does freedom look like? Define “good standing” (which sounds awfully meritorious).
It is these kinds of questions that are being wrestled with by the likes of Alan Chambers and others. I’m not arguing that Chambers has necessarily got the right answers to the questions, but that he is struggling with what the next generation of ministry in this area looks and sounds like. Undoubtedly he will make some mistakes along the way as he does that, and furthermore we should not shirk in holding him to account when he says or does things that are moving beyond the bounds of a true Scriptural response to homosexuality. At the same time though the issues he and others raise need to be examined as they stem out of deep-rooted concern with the fruits of the ministry that we have all shared in for a number of decades.
The RHN doctrinal statement is a combination of clear Biblical statements on the nature of marriage, sex and what Scripture says aboutÂ aberrationsÂ of that. At the same time it is also a reactionary document, concentrating a great deal of effort on trying to define the correct response to sinful behaviour, both in personal discipleship terms andÂ ecclesiasticalÂ discipline. Not that that reactionary element should be a surprise given that the Restored Hope Network was birthed as a reaction to actions and perceptions of Alan Chambers’ changing stance over the past year / 18 months.
The Restored Hope Network is holding its first conference in a fortnight’s time and were I a little nearer I think I would make a significant effort to go. There are some significant names on the list of the Committee and other speakers like Joe Dallas have been at the heart of the movement for years. It will be interesting to hear and read reports from the conference to see what was (and wasn’t) said. I know people who are friends with key players on both sides and I wonder whether it’ll be possible for some to be members of both Exodus andÂ the Restored Hope Network. It’ll also be fascinating to see what happens next with Exodus International – with some key resignations in the past few days things seem to be moving slowly but surely towards an end-game.