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Sexual moralism vs. the gospel?

John at Redeemed Rambling, a Reformed Baptist, maintains that many conservative Christians are talking so much about sexual immorality that they are obscuring the Gospel:

To my brothers, I have this plea: please stop with the sexual moralism. True Christianity finds its all in the gospel – God’s grace to take us in when we are wretched. We all come to God laden with sexual sin. The purest among us is an adulterer, for without the Holy Spirit our hearts burn with lust. This is who we are. The joy is that there is salvation! The joy is that Christ takes our filthy rags and clothes us in his own righteousness. The joy is that God’s own Spirit empowers us to enjoy God’s great gifts – even sexuality – in their proper and most delightful context.

But some have ignored this, and instead spend their energy “fighting” homosexuality in the public square. Do you realize, friend, that no amount of moralizing nor legislation will take away the depravity of the human heart? There is the third use of the law, but that conversation makes no sense without the first two uses of the law! Which is to say that we are sinners all and need the love, grace, and compassion of a savior who gave up everything – even His own life – to rescue a people damned to torment for our own wretchedness.

The problem, brother, is that a few of us are so loudly proclaiming that homosexuality is a sin that we may be guilty of actually preaching a false gospel. You see, some of us have got a beautiful, strong doctrinal position. On paper. But much of the world never sees that. They hear your moralizing. They read your blog. They visit your church website. And the “gospel” they hear is that until they clean up their life, they cannot be acceptable to God. Please hear me; this is a very deep evil. This is not the gospel of Christ! Are you so arrogant that you believe you are God’s own instrument to stem the tide of social depravity? That is God’s business, and he has ordained a means by which this may happen – the conversion of the soul.

Brothers, we must be faithful, and part of being faithful is being clear that we are sinners in need of a savior – and sexual sin is just that. Even homosexuality, today’s hot topic, is a sin against the one true God. So is the rampant lust, pornography use, and divorce that afflicts our “Christian” churches. Our actions do not make us less sinners. We do not need less grace. And the other part about being faithful is being faithful to proclaim our gospel of grace! The other part of being faithful is to actually obey Christ – to love God with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

So my plea to you is to please stop the moralism. I’m sure we mean well, but the gospel you take for granted is the precious water of life that alone can soften the cracked desert of the lost soul. Stop damming it up.

via Redeemed Rambling: Please Stop the Moralism.

Good point?  Or not?  Or good but not complete?

Granted that the enemy of the Gospel is not sin but self-righteousness, isn’t it necessary to teach the sinfulness of sin, so as to puncture self-righteousness?  Isn’t the problem of sexual sin today actually a problem of self-righteousness, insisting for our every sexual sin that “there is nothing wrong with it” and achieving social approval that makes it easier to feel good about the sins we commit?  Whereupon we no longer repent of them and no longer recognize the need for Christ’s grace?

Still, though, the notion is that Christianity is about “being good,” and the implication that if you aren’t good, you just need to try harder–these surely leave Christ and  the Gospel out of consideration.  And yet this is indeed what many people think Christianity is all about.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Sounds like pretty good stuff on the face of it. Of course the tag “Baptist” in the author’s description raises a red flag as to his “justification orientation”. Certainly this whole question hinges on one’s interpretation of the statement, “The other part of being faithful is to actually obey Christ – to love God with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” He sounds like he’s getting it – the idea that we fulfill the Law not by what we do but, rather, by faith in what Christ did for us. At issue is the question of how that transaction (i.e. our movement from the “sinner pile” to the “simul justus et peccator pile”) occurs. Is it by virtue of a decision we’ve made or is it by God’s grace in Word and Sacrament? Immediate or via means? Again, his denominational affiliation hoists the red flag as to which side of that question he comes down on.
    But not wanting to be a nattering nabob of negativity, I stand by the observation that he sounds like he’s getting the Gospel right here. Perhaps analogous to those (admittedly rare) instances in math class when you do the intermediate steps incorrectly but somehow come up with the correct answer.

  • Pete

    Sounds like pretty good stuff on the face of it. Of course the tag “Baptist” in the author’s description raises a red flag as to his “justification orientation”. Certainly this whole question hinges on one’s interpretation of the statement, “The other part of being faithful is to actually obey Christ – to love God with all our strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.” He sounds like he’s getting it – the idea that we fulfill the Law not by what we do but, rather, by faith in what Christ did for us. At issue is the question of how that transaction (i.e. our movement from the “sinner pile” to the “simul justus et peccator pile”) occurs. Is it by virtue of a decision we’ve made or is it by God’s grace in Word and Sacrament? Immediate or via means? Again, his denominational affiliation hoists the red flag as to which side of that question he comes down on.
    But not wanting to be a nattering nabob of negativity, I stand by the observation that he sounds like he’s getting the Gospel right here. Perhaps analogous to those (admittedly rare) instances in math class when you do the intermediate steps incorrectly but somehow come up with the correct answer.

  • http://www.bioethike.com Robert

    The problem isn’t moralism, per se, it is that many conservative Christians have obsessively reduced sexual sin to only same-sex behavior.

    The Church must begin again to teach Christian anthropology, why God created male and female, and the procreative and unitive aspects of marriage.

    In so doing, Christians will learn how they, too, have sinned through pornography, unbiblical serial divorce, self-pleasure, and by adopting a contraceptive mentality that militates against marriage by God’s design.

    Perhaps then we can all repent amd believe in the Gospel.

    Robert at bioethike.com

  • http://www.bioethike.com Robert

    The problem isn’t moralism, per se, it is that many conservative Christians have obsessively reduced sexual sin to only same-sex behavior.

    The Church must begin again to teach Christian anthropology, why God created male and female, and the procreative and unitive aspects of marriage.

    In so doing, Christians will learn how they, too, have sinned through pornography, unbiblical serial divorce, self-pleasure, and by adopting a contraceptive mentality that militates against marriage by God’s design.

    Perhaps then we can all repent amd believe in the Gospel.

    Robert at bioethike.com

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    Hm. I wonder who is really moralizing here.

    John says, “Are you so arrogant that you believe you are God’s own instrument to stem the tide of social depravity? That is God’s business, and he has ordained a means by which this may happen – the conversion of the soul.”

    I was unaware that the conversion of the soul was a means to societal improvement or the restraint of wickedness on earth. I had thought God established vocations like father, mother, neighbor, citizen, governor, and so forth for that purpose. Unfortunately, the tasks of those vocations are often contingent on the circumstances in which they are carried out. For example, in a society which is deeply confused on sexual issues, people serving well in such vocations would spend more time talking and acting in response to such issues. It’s disproportionate to their overall importance, but quite proportionate to our situation.

    So yes, I believe that I am God’s own instrument to stem the tide of depravity–not for all of society at once, but just among those whom I have been called to serve in such a way.

  • http://www.matthewcochran.net/blog Matt Cochran

    Hm. I wonder who is really moralizing here.

    John says, “Are you so arrogant that you believe you are God’s own instrument to stem the tide of social depravity? That is God’s business, and he has ordained a means by which this may happen – the conversion of the soul.”

    I was unaware that the conversion of the soul was a means to societal improvement or the restraint of wickedness on earth. I had thought God established vocations like father, mother, neighbor, citizen, governor, and so forth for that purpose. Unfortunately, the tasks of those vocations are often contingent on the circumstances in which they are carried out. For example, in a society which is deeply confused on sexual issues, people serving well in such vocations would spend more time talking and acting in response to such issues. It’s disproportionate to their overall importance, but quite proportionate to our situation.

    So yes, I believe that I am God’s own instrument to stem the tide of depravity–not for all of society at once, but just among those whom I have been called to serve in such a way.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I explained this patiently recently to someone who asked a similar question.

    We are focusing on homosexuality right now because that’s the point at which the Bible is being attacked most violently.

    If our culture was trying to tell us to bow down to idols, we’d be focusing on that.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    I explained this patiently recently to someone who asked a similar question.

    We are focusing on homosexuality right now because that’s the point at which the Bible is being attacked most violently.

    If our culture was trying to tell us to bow down to idols, we’d be focusing on that.

  • Sandi

    I am not sure that this relates to this topic, but if your bloggers could comment on this, it would perhaps help me to work through a dilemma. A local (California) church we are considering attending has an elder who was a former child sexual abuser. His picture of course comes up online when one does a local search for predictors. Because church elders are required to have a good reputation within the church as well as within the community, I think that this is a mistake. Yet I keep thinking of Paul and his community reputation prior to his conversion.(abuser of Christians) Is this an example of making too much of sexual sin?

  • Sandi

    I am not sure that this relates to this topic, but if your bloggers could comment on this, it would perhaps help me to work through a dilemma. A local (California) church we are considering attending has an elder who was a former child sexual abuser. His picture of course comes up online when one does a local search for predictors. Because church elders are required to have a good reputation within the church as well as within the community, I think that this is a mistake. Yet I keep thinking of Paul and his community reputation prior to his conversion.(abuser of Christians) Is this an example of making too much of sexual sin?

  • Cincinnatus

    What Lars said @4.

    Also, those churches that actually preach proper moral conduct (a category in which my own church, for better or worse, doesn’t really belong), sexual sin has not been reduced, as Robert claims @2 solely to homosexual sin. I spent some time in a fundamentalist/evangelical church, particularly in a group oriented toward teenagers, and I can’t even count how many times I was subjected to counsels against pornography, premarital sex, and the like. Homosexuality rarely came up, in fact. Churches like this regularly host men’s groups to discuss methods of resisting temptations to view pornography, etc. The idea that conservative elements of the church are obsessed with homosexuality seems a media stereotype; it’s the “progressives” these days who are obsessed, as deeply concerned as they are to ensure that open homosexuals are ordained because they are homosexual.

    On the one hand, it is moralism, and it can come at the expense of the Gospel. To be continually forced to listen to and subscribe to long lists of “don’t”s, particularly when the topic is so personal and embarrassing for many people (and an area in which most, if not all, have fallen short), is a major turnoff (ha…turnoff). On the other hand, the Church as a whole has always responded publicly to contemporary moral dilemmas: abolition, temperance, social justice, etc. Is this problematic? Our culture is sexually lascivious and corrupted in a way that has not been witnessed for several centuries at least. Ought the church not say something? Ought the church not respond to this need?

  • Cincinnatus

    What Lars said @4.

    Also, those churches that actually preach proper moral conduct (a category in which my own church, for better or worse, doesn’t really belong), sexual sin has not been reduced, as Robert claims @2 solely to homosexual sin. I spent some time in a fundamentalist/evangelical church, particularly in a group oriented toward teenagers, and I can’t even count how many times I was subjected to counsels against pornography, premarital sex, and the like. Homosexuality rarely came up, in fact. Churches like this regularly host men’s groups to discuss methods of resisting temptations to view pornography, etc. The idea that conservative elements of the church are obsessed with homosexuality seems a media stereotype; it’s the “progressives” these days who are obsessed, as deeply concerned as they are to ensure that open homosexuals are ordained because they are homosexual.

    On the one hand, it is moralism, and it can come at the expense of the Gospel. To be continually forced to listen to and subscribe to long lists of “don’t”s, particularly when the topic is so personal and embarrassing for many people (and an area in which most, if not all, have fallen short), is a major turnoff (ha…turnoff). On the other hand, the Church as a whole has always responded publicly to contemporary moral dilemmas: abolition, temperance, social justice, etc. Is this problematic? Our culture is sexually lascivious and corrupted in a way that has not been witnessed for several centuries at least. Ought the church not say something? Ought the church not respond to this need?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Sandi, I think it depends on when the crime was and what the evidence is of his repentance.

    Regarding the Reformed Baptist’s comments, a lot of it depends on how he fleshes things out. At face value, his comment about “this is God’s work” really ignores–and this is odd for a Baptist–the role of preaching in bringing men to Christ. But how shall they hear without a preacher? Does not faith come by the Word?

    So the question is this; does taking a stand on what the government does vis a vis sexual immorality mere “moralism,” or is it an attempt to bring the Gospel to people by presenting them with what the Bible says about violating His moral law? At a certain point, John is entirely correct that some merely moralize; whether or not the Gospel is presented in full or part or not at all really depends on tactics here.

    That said, however, he gives no examples of how to flesh this out, nor how not to, so what he’s really done is to set up a straw man in this case–when again there are very real cases (Fred Phelps) of self-righteous moralizing in the public square.

    Might as well close the thought with a word from Deming for John; “In God we Trust, all others must provide data.” One must anchor one’s argument to actual facts for it to strike home.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Sandi, I think it depends on when the crime was and what the evidence is of his repentance.

    Regarding the Reformed Baptist’s comments, a lot of it depends on how he fleshes things out. At face value, his comment about “this is God’s work” really ignores–and this is odd for a Baptist–the role of preaching in bringing men to Christ. But how shall they hear without a preacher? Does not faith come by the Word?

    So the question is this; does taking a stand on what the government does vis a vis sexual immorality mere “moralism,” or is it an attempt to bring the Gospel to people by presenting them with what the Bible says about violating His moral law? At a certain point, John is entirely correct that some merely moralize; whether or not the Gospel is presented in full or part or not at all really depends on tactics here.

    That said, however, he gives no examples of how to flesh this out, nor how not to, so what he’s really done is to set up a straw man in this case–when again there are very real cases (Fred Phelps) of self-righteous moralizing in the public square.

    Might as well close the thought with a word from Deming for John; “In God we Trust, all others must provide data.” One must anchor one’s argument to actual facts for it to strike home.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blospot.com Bror Erickson

    Sandi,
    I don’t know that anyone can answer that for you. I think it is probably something you need to take up with the pastor and that elder. On the surface it doesn’t look good. I don’t know of anything that could change that either, but then the conversation needs to be had for its own sake.
    And what Cincinatus said. It isn’t just about homosexuality in many of these churches.
    But I do think it is often at the expense of the gospel. And there is a danger that often when preaching the law, we preach against sins of the culture rather than those of the congregation. It’s harder to preach against the sins that you know your own parishoners are struggling with, especially when you struggle with them, but any good pastor loves the sheep Jesus has entrusted to him, and it does become hard to confront them, even if in the end that is the loving thing to do. In the end though it is worthless if it doesn’t end with Gospel.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blospot.com Bror Erickson

    Sandi,
    I don’t know that anyone can answer that for you. I think it is probably something you need to take up with the pastor and that elder. On the surface it doesn’t look good. I don’t know of anything that could change that either, but then the conversation needs to be had for its own sake.
    And what Cincinatus said. It isn’t just about homosexuality in many of these churches.
    But I do think it is often at the expense of the gospel. And there is a danger that often when preaching the law, we preach against sins of the culture rather than those of the congregation. It’s harder to preach against the sins that you know your own parishoners are struggling with, especially when you struggle with them, but any good pastor loves the sheep Jesus has entrusted to him, and it does become hard to confront them, even if in the end that is the loving thing to do. In the end though it is worthless if it doesn’t end with Gospel.

  • CRB

    Our calling is to preach the Word of God, His law and His gospel.
    The results of this preaching is left up to God. He knows the hearts of people and will do His work in their hearts as He does in ours.
    That said, we are to reprove sin, call the sinner to repentance SO THAT we may impart God’s forgivenes in Christ.

    Too often these days, we find that the gospel seems to be falling on deaf ears. We must also be careful that we do not confirm the sinner in his/her sin as that would not be loving either to God or neighbor! I think a good example is the so-called Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father stayed and waited, he did not run after the son. He stood on the word, where he could be found. The church in our time, instead of digging deeper into the Word, goes running after the prodigals and tries to appeal to them, in their sinful ways, therefby confirming them in their sin. The church, with the Father, waits with the treasures.

  • CRB

    Our calling is to preach the Word of God, His law and His gospel.
    The results of this preaching is left up to God. He knows the hearts of people and will do His work in their hearts as He does in ours.
    That said, we are to reprove sin, call the sinner to repentance SO THAT we may impart God’s forgivenes in Christ.

    Too often these days, we find that the gospel seems to be falling on deaf ears. We must also be careful that we do not confirm the sinner in his/her sin as that would not be loving either to God or neighbor! I think a good example is the so-called Parable of the Prodigal Son. The father stayed and waited, he did not run after the son. He stood on the word, where he could be found. The church in our time, instead of digging deeper into the Word, goes running after the prodigals and tries to appeal to them, in their sinful ways, therefby confirming them in their sin. The church, with the Father, waits with the treasures.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    > many conservative Christians are talking so much about sexual
    > immorality that they are obscuring the Gospel:

    Yeah. Breaking news. Film at 11.

  • http://facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    > many conservative Christians are talking so much about sexual
    > immorality that they are obscuring the Gospel:

    Yeah. Breaking news. Film at 11.

  • Jonathan

    Where I think John has it right is that American Christians reprove (some) sexual sin (but see Sen. Vitter (R-LA), without calling anyone to ‘repentance’ and belief. CRB @9

    In other words, the reproving is done strictly for politics, to advance one party or candidate over the other. Condemning gays, for example, has become a litmus test for political purity. And many Christians (including the so-called Christian candidates for national office) condemn without grace, without speaking the gospel, without love. Such loveless condemnation is not really Christian, it’s rank legalism that any self-righteous hack can do. John’s points are well taken.

  • Jonathan

    Where I think John has it right is that American Christians reprove (some) sexual sin (but see Sen. Vitter (R-LA), without calling anyone to ‘repentance’ and belief. CRB @9

    In other words, the reproving is done strictly for politics, to advance one party or candidate over the other. Condemning gays, for example, has become a litmus test for political purity. And many Christians (including the so-called Christian candidates for national office) condemn without grace, without speaking the gospel, without love. Such loveless condemnation is not really Christian, it’s rank legalism that any self-righteous hack can do. John’s points are well taken.

  • DonS

    I concur with Lars @ 4 and Cincinnatus @ 6. The obsession with homosexuality is on the left. Those having traditional moral values, whether Christian or not, tend to react to what feels like, and is, an attack on their value system and character.

    Of course, the author is correct that the focus always needs to be on the Gospel, and God’s love for us, in our sinful state, and regardless of our sins, whatever they are. He saves us as we are, and there is nothing we can do in our strength to make ourselves “acceptable” for salvation. We need to communicate, clearly and unequivocably, God’s love to all, including those in bondage to sexual immorality.

    On the other hand, sin is sin. Scripture tells us what sin is, and it is important to ensure that God’s standards are taught consistently to the church and also to unbelievers. Part of preaching the Gospel is helping people to understand why they fall short of God’s standards in their own strength. It is the law that condemns, and allows the Holy Spirit to convict us to recognize our need for a Savior. We cannot shy away from preaching the truth because it makes people uncomfortable or causes them to dislike us.

  • DonS

    I concur with Lars @ 4 and Cincinnatus @ 6. The obsession with homosexuality is on the left. Those having traditional moral values, whether Christian or not, tend to react to what feels like, and is, an attack on their value system and character.

    Of course, the author is correct that the focus always needs to be on the Gospel, and God’s love for us, in our sinful state, and regardless of our sins, whatever they are. He saves us as we are, and there is nothing we can do in our strength to make ourselves “acceptable” for salvation. We need to communicate, clearly and unequivocably, God’s love to all, including those in bondage to sexual immorality.

    On the other hand, sin is sin. Scripture tells us what sin is, and it is important to ensure that God’s standards are taught consistently to the church and also to unbelievers. Part of preaching the Gospel is helping people to understand why they fall short of God’s standards in their own strength. It is the law that condemns, and allows the Holy Spirit to convict us to recognize our need for a Savior. We cannot shy away from preaching the truth because it makes people uncomfortable or causes them to dislike us.

  • MHB

    It looks like moralism when the Church, or her members, say, “a Christian wouldn’t do that.” It is not moralism to confront the sinner (on any sin) and ask,”do you believe you have a right to that, or –with God– do you hate it?”

    John’s appeal seems to be a call to the latter, so that the Gospel in its fullness is applied. I think he’s right.

  • MHB

    It looks like moralism when the Church, or her members, say, “a Christian wouldn’t do that.” It is not moralism to confront the sinner (on any sin) and ask,”do you believe you have a right to that, or –with God– do you hate it?”

    John’s appeal seems to be a call to the latter, so that the Gospel in its fullness is applied. I think he’s right.

  • Jonathan

    @12 “The obsession with homosexuality is on the left.” Sure.
    Imagine the fate of any GOPer who says, “Gays? Don’t have a problem with that. Let’s talk about something important.”

  • Jonathan

    @12 “The obsession with homosexuality is on the left.” Sure.
    Imagine the fate of any GOPer who says, “Gays? Don’t have a problem with that. Let’s talk about something important.”

  • fws

    kudos cinncinatus, and especially Matt C @ 3

    mhb @ 13 It IS moral-ism when someone says “a christian would not do that”. Actually it is worse than moralism.

    Biblical fact: Christians are visibly completely indistinguishable as to their morals from pagans. The only visible difference is that Christians have been baptized.

    Proof: Name just one thing a christian would or could do visibly, that a pagan would never or could never do. Just one.

  • fws

    kudos cinncinatus, and especially Matt C @ 3

    mhb @ 13 It IS moral-ism when someone says “a christian would not do that”. Actually it is worse than moralism.

    Biblical fact: Christians are visibly completely indistinguishable as to their morals from pagans. The only visible difference is that Christians have been baptized.

    Proof: Name just one thing a christian would or could do visibly, that a pagan would never or could never do. Just one.

  • fws

    don @ 12

    “On the other hand, sin is sin. Scripture tells us what sin is, and it is important to ensure that God’s standards are taught consistently to the church and also to unbelievers. ”

    It is good to ponder that this Divine Standard is FULLY contained in the story of the Good Samaritan. So based upon that story, how would you describe the Divine Standard? How would you teach others to conform to that standard described in the story?

  • fws

    don @ 12

    “On the other hand, sin is sin. Scripture tells us what sin is, and it is important to ensure that God’s standards are taught consistently to the church and also to unbelievers. ”

    It is good to ponder that this Divine Standard is FULLY contained in the story of the Good Samaritan. So based upon that story, how would you describe the Divine Standard? How would you teach others to conform to that standard described in the story?

  • Cincinnatus

    Jonathan@14: We’re talking about certain kinds of fundamentalist churches (reformed Baptists in particular), not the Republican Party. Contrary to your prejudices, the two are not synonymous. Though it’s probably true that most Reformed Baptists are Republican (I wouldn’t know, but it seems a reasonable supposition), it’s definitely not true that most Republicans are Reformed Baptists. Seriously. Go to a fundamentalist church: you’ll hear endless speeches about the evils of pornography, have the opportunity to participate in numerous classes, workshops, seminars, and prayer meetings to help you beat your “addiction” to porn, but you’ll hear little about homosexuality (unless you’re in Fred Phelps’s congregation). Fornication also gets a bad rap in such congregations. Independent Baptist churches, in fact, are some of the only churches remaining of which I’m personally aware that still boldly confront unmarried cohabiting couples by sending deacons to tell them that they’re “not living right.”

    But we probably shouldn’t be unfair: most of these churches also use these “moralistic” claims as a pretext to share the Gospel (or their version of it anyway, via the “altar call,” etc.). Yeah, often it bleeds into a legalistic Pharisaism, but at least in my experience, these churches are emphatic in their insistence that only Christ can save us from these sins. The problem isn’t substituting law for Gospel, but, in my view, reducing Christ’s work to something that merely helps us sin less.

  • Cincinnatus

    Jonathan@14: We’re talking about certain kinds of fundamentalist churches (reformed Baptists in particular), not the Republican Party. Contrary to your prejudices, the two are not synonymous. Though it’s probably true that most Reformed Baptists are Republican (I wouldn’t know, but it seems a reasonable supposition), it’s definitely not true that most Republicans are Reformed Baptists. Seriously. Go to a fundamentalist church: you’ll hear endless speeches about the evils of pornography, have the opportunity to participate in numerous classes, workshops, seminars, and prayer meetings to help you beat your “addiction” to porn, but you’ll hear little about homosexuality (unless you’re in Fred Phelps’s congregation). Fornication also gets a bad rap in such congregations. Independent Baptist churches, in fact, are some of the only churches remaining of which I’m personally aware that still boldly confront unmarried cohabiting couples by sending deacons to tell them that they’re “not living right.”

    But we probably shouldn’t be unfair: most of these churches also use these “moralistic” claims as a pretext to share the Gospel (or their version of it anyway, via the “altar call,” etc.). Yeah, often it bleeds into a legalistic Pharisaism, but at least in my experience, these churches are emphatic in their insistence that only Christ can save us from these sins. The problem isn’t substituting law for Gospel, but, in my view, reducing Christ’s work to something that merely helps us sin less.

  • Cincinnatus

    And, really, some of this discussion should involve us as sacramental Christians. Whatever happened to taking seriously the Confession that precedes the Eucharist? We are strongly urged to search our hearts and seek remission for sins we have committed before daring to approach the altar. But that is a meaningless injunction if we no longer teach and understand the meaning of sin.

  • Cincinnatus

    And, really, some of this discussion should involve us as sacramental Christians. Whatever happened to taking seriously the Confession that precedes the Eucharist? We are strongly urged to search our hearts and seek remission for sins we have committed before daring to approach the altar. But that is a meaningless injunction if we no longer teach and understand the meaning of sin.

  • Jonathan

    @17 Cin, I agree with much of what you say. Where I differ is (1) I don’t think the GOP = fundamental Christianity; but fundamentalists (incl. fundamentalist sacramentalists) are overwhelmingly Republican and drive that party’s social (ie., sex and guns) agenda; and (2) you will more than a little about gays in a fundamentalist church. But about gays, in general, and their alleged threat to America; I agree with you that such pastors don’t assume they have many closeted gays in the pews.

    Look at Rep. Bachmann’s husband, who runs a clinic to turn gays into straight people. That’s bizarre, not mention junk science, but the GOP faithful likely will find that commendable.

  • Jonathan

    @17 Cin, I agree with much of what you say. Where I differ is (1) I don’t think the GOP = fundamental Christianity; but fundamentalists (incl. fundamentalist sacramentalists) are overwhelmingly Republican and drive that party’s social (ie., sex and guns) agenda; and (2) you will more than a little about gays in a fundamentalist church. But about gays, in general, and their alleged threat to America; I agree with you that such pastors don’t assume they have many closeted gays in the pews.

    Look at Rep. Bachmann’s husband, who runs a clinic to turn gays into straight people. That’s bizarre, not mention junk science, but the GOP faithful likely will find that commendable.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Sorry, Cincinnatus (@6), but the whole “Homosexuality rarely came up” argument doesn’t ring true to me. I don’t doubt that your anecdotes are true for you, as written, of course.

    But even a cursory glance at this site will reflect the obsession (or, if you will, greater concern) with homosexuality over, say, pornography. Here, go look at the posts Veith has tagged with “homosexuality” vs. those he tagged “pornography” (assuming he has tagged things properly). One might possibly excuse this by noting that homosexuality generates more news (and, therefore, more discussion) than does pornography (which people rarely want to talk about, it seems).

    Now, one would hope that our churches are focused more on the problems of their members, which would almost certainly result in more discussion of pornography than homosexuality, statistically. And, sure, porn gets its mentions, in my experience. But, also in my experience, the go-to topics to discuss when talking about sinful people, the corruption of our culture, etc. are homosexuality and abortion. That is, the two things that most Christians seem to assume are to be found only outside the church. What They do. This is my experience in conservative Christianity.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Sorry, Cincinnatus (@6), but the whole “Homosexuality rarely came up” argument doesn’t ring true to me. I don’t doubt that your anecdotes are true for you, as written, of course.

    But even a cursory glance at this site will reflect the obsession (or, if you will, greater concern) with homosexuality over, say, pornography. Here, go look at the posts Veith has tagged with “homosexuality” vs. those he tagged “pornography” (assuming he has tagged things properly). One might possibly excuse this by noting that homosexuality generates more news (and, therefore, more discussion) than does pornography (which people rarely want to talk about, it seems).

    Now, one would hope that our churches are focused more on the problems of their members, which would almost certainly result in more discussion of pornography than homosexuality, statistically. And, sure, porn gets its mentions, in my experience. But, also in my experience, the go-to topics to discuss when talking about sinful people, the corruption of our culture, etc. are homosexuality and abortion. That is, the two things that most Christians seem to assume are to be found only outside the church. What They do. This is my experience in conservative Christianity.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think that the comment ecosystem on this blog, much as I enjoy it, exemplifies the problem John at Redeemed Rambling has identified.

    I mean, on this blog, over and over, you can find people saying that radically different — indeed, mutually exclusive — understandings of the Sacraments are all reasonable and Biblical, and not worth dividing the Church over. In fact, you can even find some of those people saying that to insist on one’s particular understanding of the Sacraments as exclusively correct is sinful! Can’t we all just get along?

    Ah, but! Take those same people and expose them to a Christian who is also a homosexual, and the record playing “Kumbaya” scratches to a stop. There is to be no “agree to disagree” on that topic! Why, you’ll even hear suggestions that such homosexuals are not, nor could they be, Christians!

    So, the Gospel in Word and Sacraments? Hey, we all have our own understanding, and who’s to say what’s right? But gays? Sexual moralism all the way, until that gay guy shuts up.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think that the comment ecosystem on this blog, much as I enjoy it, exemplifies the problem John at Redeemed Rambling has identified.

    I mean, on this blog, over and over, you can find people saying that radically different — indeed, mutually exclusive — understandings of the Sacraments are all reasonable and Biblical, and not worth dividing the Church over. In fact, you can even find some of those people saying that to insist on one’s particular understanding of the Sacraments as exclusively correct is sinful! Can’t we all just get along?

    Ah, but! Take those same people and expose them to a Christian who is also a homosexual, and the record playing “Kumbaya” scratches to a stop. There is to be no “agree to disagree” on that topic! Why, you’ll even hear suggestions that such homosexuals are not, nor could they be, Christians!

    So, the Gospel in Word and Sacraments? Hey, we all have our own understanding, and who’s to say what’s right? But gays? Sexual moralism all the way, until that gay guy shuts up.

  • Dust

    Sandi….is a sexual sin worse than divorce? Depends on the sexual sin and depends on the circumstances of the divorce?

    There are many Pastors that are divorced from one or more of their wives and no one seems to mind….same thing goes for many of the folks sitting in the pews. Some of them may contribute to this blog?

  • Dust

    Sandi….is a sexual sin worse than divorce? Depends on the sexual sin and depends on the circumstances of the divorce?

    There are many Pastors that are divorced from one or more of their wives and no one seems to mind….same thing goes for many of the folks sitting in the pews. Some of them may contribute to this blog?

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Cincinnatus, a Reformed Baptist is generally not one who would call himself a fundamentalist; while he would affirm the fundamentals (just as a conservative Presbyterian or Lutheran would), when you’re talking about independent fundamental Baptists, you are generally talking about those whose theology is somewhat Arminian and thus not Reformed. So if “John” is referring to IFB, he’s still referring to someone else besides himself.

    Along the same lines, and regarding tODD’s comment, I would hope that most of the LCMS folks here would affirm at least the “solas” (as do I) and the fundamentals (autographs of Scripture inerrant, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and second coming). Yes, we differ on the ordinances of immersion and the Lord’s Supper, but there is a lot in common, I hope.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bike bubba

    Cincinnatus, a Reformed Baptist is generally not one who would call himself a fundamentalist; while he would affirm the fundamentals (just as a conservative Presbyterian or Lutheran would), when you’re talking about independent fundamental Baptists, you are generally talking about those whose theology is somewhat Arminian and thus not Reformed. So if “John” is referring to IFB, he’s still referring to someone else besides himself.

    Along the same lines, and regarding tODD’s comment, I would hope that most of the LCMS folks here would affirm at least the “solas” (as do I) and the fundamentals (autographs of Scripture inerrant, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and second coming). Yes, we differ on the ordinances of immersion and the Lord’s Supper, but there is a lot in common, I hope.

  • Jonathan

    The Atlantic (theatlantic.com) has just published an article about Rep. Bachmann and her WELS Connections. Don’t have the link, but it’s by Josh Green.

  • Jonathan

    The Atlantic (theatlantic.com) has just published an article about Rep. Bachmann and her WELS Connections. Don’t have the link, but it’s by Josh Green.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@23), it’s not clear to me if you understood my point or not. So I’ll make it with respect to your comment. You said:

    Yes, we differ on the ordinances of immersion and the Lord’s Supper, but there is a lot in common, I hope.

    I hear this a lot from “conservative” Christians. It’s something of a trope. But what I cannot imagine hearing with any frequency would be something like this:

    Yes, we differ on homosexuality as (or whether) it relates to sin, but that doesn’t change all that we have in common as true brothers in Christ, nor should we let it divide us.

    All of which would appear to reinforce the original point of this thread.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Bubba (@23), it’s not clear to me if you understood my point or not. So I’ll make it with respect to your comment. You said:

    Yes, we differ on the ordinances of immersion and the Lord’s Supper, but there is a lot in common, I hope.

    I hear this a lot from “conservative” Christians. It’s something of a trope. But what I cannot imagine hearing with any frequency would be something like this:

    Yes, we differ on homosexuality as (or whether) it relates to sin, but that doesn’t change all that we have in common as true brothers in Christ, nor should we let it divide us.

    All of which would appear to reinforce the original point of this thread.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, I’m not sure what you’re on about @20. You answer your own question. First, this blog is neither a reformed nor an independent Baptist congregation. Second, homosexuality comes up on this blog quite frequently because a) our hosts posts many links dealing with questions of homosexuality (perhaps knowing from experience that they generate interest and discussion), b) homosexuality is quite prevalent in the news these days, what with very public questions of gay marriage, nature vs. nurture, gay ordination, etc., c) homosexuality, in particular gay ordination, is a live question in Christian congregations at the moment, especially in the mainline denominations, including ELCA, and, finally, d) several of our fellow interlocutors are themselves homosexual and (apparently) find it fruitful to themselves or to us to engage in conversation on this blog on the topic of homosexuality.

    There’s no secret, and if anyone is “obsessed” with homosexuality, it’s those within the Church pushing for acceptance of homosexual behavior (as non-sinful) and, worse, for ordination of openly and unrepentantly homosexual persons. This “obsessions” obviously preceded the countervailing and sometimes hysterical response of assorted conservatives, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Catholics, and others in the Church who disapprove of such things.

    Anyway, I’ll revert to my original claim: in most solid Baptist churches (and similar congregations), pornography is a massive concern. Seriously. Attend a church like that for a while and you will be inundated with seminars, classes, sermons, Sunday school lessons, books, Bible studies, etc., all dealing directly with the topic of pornography. Concern with the status of homosexuality is more the preserve of Anglican churches and other mainline denominations actually struggling with the issue on a broad basis within the Church hierarchy. Neither of these places–Baptist churches or mainline episcopacies–are equivalent to the wider public discourse among Christians and conservatives more generally, by the way, where homosexuality is a seemingly disproportionate concern.

    I warrant that if Veith posted more articles on pornography and few/none on homosexuality, the discussion would skew toward pornography. As it is, I’m personally bored with debates about pornography–I’ve heard most of what there is to say on that topic. I feel the same about homosexuality, particularly since no one in that debate seems open to persuasion, but, since it is a live issue in the fields of public policy and political theory–kinda’ my schtick–I participate. In any case, both are important questions, and I think it’s unfortunate if we write them both off as petty moralism.

    So, as for you comment @ 21: I’m personally not willing to compromise on proper understandings of either human sexuality or the sacraments, assuming I have either of those figured out (which I don’t). But I think the discussions are worth having in any case.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD, I’m not sure what you’re on about @20. You answer your own question. First, this blog is neither a reformed nor an independent Baptist congregation. Second, homosexuality comes up on this blog quite frequently because a) our hosts posts many links dealing with questions of homosexuality (perhaps knowing from experience that they generate interest and discussion), b) homosexuality is quite prevalent in the news these days, what with very public questions of gay marriage, nature vs. nurture, gay ordination, etc., c) homosexuality, in particular gay ordination, is a live question in Christian congregations at the moment, especially in the mainline denominations, including ELCA, and, finally, d) several of our fellow interlocutors are themselves homosexual and (apparently) find it fruitful to themselves or to us to engage in conversation on this blog on the topic of homosexuality.

    There’s no secret, and if anyone is “obsessed” with homosexuality, it’s those within the Church pushing for acceptance of homosexual behavior (as non-sinful) and, worse, for ordination of openly and unrepentantly homosexual persons. This “obsessions” obviously preceded the countervailing and sometimes hysterical response of assorted conservatives, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Catholics, and others in the Church who disapprove of such things.

    Anyway, I’ll revert to my original claim: in most solid Baptist churches (and similar congregations), pornography is a massive concern. Seriously. Attend a church like that for a while and you will be inundated with seminars, classes, sermons, Sunday school lessons, books, Bible studies, etc., all dealing directly with the topic of pornography. Concern with the status of homosexuality is more the preserve of Anglican churches and other mainline denominations actually struggling with the issue on a broad basis within the Church hierarchy. Neither of these places–Baptist churches or mainline episcopacies–are equivalent to the wider public discourse among Christians and conservatives more generally, by the way, where homosexuality is a seemingly disproportionate concern.

    I warrant that if Veith posted more articles on pornography and few/none on homosexuality, the discussion would skew toward pornography. As it is, I’m personally bored with debates about pornography–I’ve heard most of what there is to say on that topic. I feel the same about homosexuality, particularly since no one in that debate seems open to persuasion, but, since it is a live issue in the fields of public policy and political theory–kinda’ my schtick–I participate. In any case, both are important questions, and I think it’s unfortunate if we write them both off as petty moralism.

    So, as for you comment @ 21: I’m personally not willing to compromise on proper understandings of either human sexuality or the sacraments, assuming I have either of those figured out (which I don’t). But I think the discussions are worth having in any case.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Lars said (@4):

    We are focusing on homosexuality right now because that’s the point at which the Bible is being attacked most violently. If our culture was trying to tell us to bow down to idols, we’d be focusing on that.

    With all respect, Lars, I think that’s naive.

    The Bible has been and always will be attacked most violently as to its core doctrine: the Gospel. And Satan is never so successful at attacking the Gospel as when he convinces Christians that they are defending Good from Evil on God’s behalf, and therefore embrace legalism, or works righteousness, or other such faith-killing philosophies.

    Our world is constantly trying to tell us to bow down to idols. But it’s rarely asking us to bow down to blatantly evil demons that are all-too-easily identified. No, much more often, we gladly bow down to the very attractive idol that is our own self-righteousness.

    And every time we tell a homosexual person that they cannot, by nature of their homosexuality, be a Christian, or that their homosexuality is, ipso facto, a willful rejection of God that can only be rectified by their “overcoming” their homosexuality and acting according to “natural law” or whatever, we force that homosexual to bow down to his own self-righteousness. Or, more likely, to embrace despair and to flee the churches where they find such a Christ-less message.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Lars said (@4):

    We are focusing on homosexuality right now because that’s the point at which the Bible is being attacked most violently. If our culture was trying to tell us to bow down to idols, we’d be focusing on that.

    With all respect, Lars, I think that’s naive.

    The Bible has been and always will be attacked most violently as to its core doctrine: the Gospel. And Satan is never so successful at attacking the Gospel as when he convinces Christians that they are defending Good from Evil on God’s behalf, and therefore embrace legalism, or works righteousness, or other such faith-killing philosophies.

    Our world is constantly trying to tell us to bow down to idols. But it’s rarely asking us to bow down to blatantly evil demons that are all-too-easily identified. No, much more often, we gladly bow down to the very attractive idol that is our own self-righteousness.

    And every time we tell a homosexual person that they cannot, by nature of their homosexuality, be a Christian, or that their homosexuality is, ipso facto, a willful rejection of God that can only be rectified by their “overcoming” their homosexuality and acting according to “natural law” or whatever, we force that homosexual to bow down to his own self-righteousness. Or, more likely, to embrace despair and to flee the churches where they find such a Christ-less message.

  • Cincinnatus

    bike bubba @ 23: Point taken. I was being careless with my terminology.

  • Cincinnatus

    bike bubba @ 23: Point taken. I was being careless with my terminology.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD@27: I wonder if that’s a bit of a straw man you’ve constructed there. Do you know anyone who can sincerely be deemed Christian who tells “homosexual person[s] that they cannot, by nature of their homosexuality, be a Christian”? I don’t know a single person who believes that, and I grew up in the heart of the Bible Belt. I don’t know a single person that says that a homosexual person cannot ever become a Christian. I know heaps of folks who believe that homosexuality ought not be affirmed, that no unrepentant person guilty of homosexual behavior can be a Christian, that homosexual behavior is a sin that will obstruct the grace of God without repentance, etc.

    And isn’t that true? Yes, there are some simpletons out there who claim that homosexual behavior is especially bad (like murder?), which is a function of salutary social mores more than anything else. But isn’t it true that no unrepentant sinner can become a Christian? Thus, when homosexuals intrude into the Church (e.g., the Episcopal Church) and demand that they be accepted as they are–by which they mean that we must affirm their conduct as worthy and proper–is that not heresy of a sort? Maybe I’m waxing too evangelical (*shudder*), but salvation requires confession and repentance. Christ accepts us as we are, but what we are is sinners.

  • Cincinnatus

    tODD@27: I wonder if that’s a bit of a straw man you’ve constructed there. Do you know anyone who can sincerely be deemed Christian who tells “homosexual person[s] that they cannot, by nature of their homosexuality, be a Christian”? I don’t know a single person who believes that, and I grew up in the heart of the Bible Belt. I don’t know a single person that says that a homosexual person cannot ever become a Christian. I know heaps of folks who believe that homosexuality ought not be affirmed, that no unrepentant person guilty of homosexual behavior can be a Christian, that homosexual behavior is a sin that will obstruct the grace of God without repentance, etc.

    And isn’t that true? Yes, there are some simpletons out there who claim that homosexual behavior is especially bad (like murder?), which is a function of salutary social mores more than anything else. But isn’t it true that no unrepentant sinner can become a Christian? Thus, when homosexuals intrude into the Church (e.g., the Episcopal Church) and demand that they be accepted as they are–by which they mean that we must affirm their conduct as worthy and proper–is that not heresy of a sort? Maybe I’m waxing too evangelical (*shudder*), but salvation requires confession and repentance. Christ accepts us as we are, but what we are is sinners.

  • Cincinnatus

    Caveat: It is problem when we insist that homosexuals first “stop” being homosexual before they are “worthy” of accepting the grace of God.

    But this is a more general problem throughout church history (alcoholics must stop being alcoholics before becoming Christian, etc.).

  • Cincinnatus

    Caveat: It is problem when we insist that homosexuals first “stop” being homosexual before they are “worthy” of accepting the grace of God.

    But this is a more general problem throughout church history (alcoholics must stop being alcoholics before becoming Christian, etc.).

  • Pete

    tODD @ 27: your comment regarding Lars @4: Niave my foot! I think Lars makes a good observation – one that doesn’t necessarily deny attacks on the Gospel. Doesn’t Satan attack the Law also? Wasn’t attacking the law the basis of the “did God really say,” argument in Eden? Wasn’t the “worship me and all of this is yours” temptation of Jesus an attack on the first commandment? Wasn’t the point of Jesus’ sharp critique of the pharisees (“children of Satan”, wasn’t it) that they were flunking the gospel by not recognizing Him for Who He was, but that they were also flunking the law in thinking it was justifying them as opposed to others. I know, I know – if Satan can get us to think we’re keeping the law, he’s winning. But “de-fanging” the law seems to be some of his schtick, too. As Lars points out, he feels a bit more cross-legged with the culture nowadays on the issue of homosexuality than about idol worship. Me too.

  • Pete

    tODD @ 27: your comment regarding Lars @4: Niave my foot! I think Lars makes a good observation – one that doesn’t necessarily deny attacks on the Gospel. Doesn’t Satan attack the Law also? Wasn’t attacking the law the basis of the “did God really say,” argument in Eden? Wasn’t the “worship me and all of this is yours” temptation of Jesus an attack on the first commandment? Wasn’t the point of Jesus’ sharp critique of the pharisees (“children of Satan”, wasn’t it) that they were flunking the gospel by not recognizing Him for Who He was, but that they were also flunking the law in thinking it was justifying them as opposed to others. I know, I know – if Satan can get us to think we’re keeping the law, he’s winning. But “de-fanging” the law seems to be some of his schtick, too. As Lars points out, he feels a bit more cross-legged with the culture nowadays on the issue of homosexuality than about idol worship. Me too.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    It seems that those who attack Biblical views of sexual morality are themselves moralizing. They assert that their views are the correct moral views.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    It seems that those who attack Biblical views of sexual morality are themselves moralizing. They assert that their views are the correct moral views.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    The sex related sins I have heard most often addressed in sermons at the churches I have attended are divorce, infidelity, and abortion. I don’t recall one addressing homosexuality.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    The sex related sins I have heard most often addressed in sermons at the churches I have attended are divorce, infidelity, and abortion. I don’t recall one addressing homosexuality.

  • Steve P.

    tODD

    “Now, one would hope that our churches are focused more on the problems of their members, which would almost certainly result in more discussion of pornography than homosexuality, statistically.”

    That has been my experience.

    “But, also in my experience, the go-to topics to discuss when talking about sinful people…”

    The go-to topics in my experience are things like pride, selfishness, idolatry, uncharitableness, and self-righteousness.

    …the corruption of our culture, etc.”

    Etc. nothin! Personal sin and the corruption of the culture are two very different general topics. The former is a frequent general topic for sermons whereas the latter is far less frequent in my experience, for obvious reasons. Personal sin is something that concerns all of us throughout our lives and throughout our spiritual lives whereas the corruption of culture is something we can as individuals only do a little about. Of course as Christians we help fight cultural decay when we live like Christians but that is only one of many reasons we are exhorted to live like Christians.

  • Steve P.

    tODD

    “Now, one would hope that our churches are focused more on the problems of their members, which would almost certainly result in more discussion of pornography than homosexuality, statistically.”

    That has been my experience.

    “But, also in my experience, the go-to topics to discuss when talking about sinful people…”

    The go-to topics in my experience are things like pride, selfishness, idolatry, uncharitableness, and self-righteousness.

    …the corruption of our culture, etc.”

    Etc. nothin! Personal sin and the corruption of the culture are two very different general topics. The former is a frequent general topic for sermons whereas the latter is far less frequent in my experience, for obvious reasons. Personal sin is something that concerns all of us throughout our lives and throughout our spiritual lives whereas the corruption of culture is something we can as individuals only do a little about. Of course as Christians we help fight cultural decay when we live like Christians but that is only one of many reasons we are exhorted to live like Christians.


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