Right after my last blog offering, our president chimed on the issue of gay marriage, thus making the topic even more front in center for our culture, and necessitating the conversation for all people of faith. The many comments on my last post included pleas for ‘clarification’ on my part, so I’ll try to do that briefly. But the main point of this post is ponder, with you, the implications of the fact that people who love Christ see things differently. I’d argue that there are three elements necessary for living out any set of faith convictions.
Revelation is the starting point because every life of faith is a continual response to revelation. God reveals, through creation, fellowship, scripture, and we respond to that revelation. Christ’s followers all believe that the Bible is core and foundational revelation to which we respond. God has spoken, and it is ours to discern what God is saying to us through the book given us, a book of history, poetry, law, letters, and records of dreams and revelations. There are many people for whom the previous conversation will have little meaning, because this fundamental starting point can’t be accepted. Still, it’s where we who follow Christ begin.
Conviction means that we’re called to respond to revelation. The entire book is filled with God saying, in many ways, “life works best if you do it my way!”, beginning in the garden of Genesis, moving through the life of Israel, and later the church. So it obedience becomes our calling, so to speak. We’re trying to understand what God is saying, and follow it. When I study what the Bible has to say about marriage, I see that everyone throughout the Bible appeals back to Genesis 2 as the reference point, and that’s where it’s “one man and one woman”. Paul gives the import of the man and the woman theological weight in Ephesians 5, when speaks about the couple’s calling to be a living illustration of Christ and the church. Some comments wrote that the church has so “mangled marriage” over the centuries, that it’s hypocritical to appeal to God’s ideal as the starting point. But even within the Bible there are glaring failures to fulfill God’s vision for marriage, including Solomon’s 300 wives, David’s adultery, and God’s accommodation of divorce. We have a hard time getting it right. That’s no reason to lower the bar or change the vision, or change the precedent of God’s ideal. To the contrary, our collective failure begs for a return to God’s vision, because such returning is called repentance. That means I need to uphold Genesis 2, and Jesus’ and Paul’s definition of marriage as a pastor, or I won’t be following my own convictions. If, in our fear of being wrong in our convictions, we refused to hold to them, then we’re not really living by faith – we’re living by fear.
But convictions are tricky, because not everyone who loves Christ shares my convictions, on this, or a thousand other issues. Some people don’t mind car loans, others do, based on this. Some people own big guns and keep them under their beds. Others don’t, based on this. Some people think women can lead churches based on this. Others don’t, based on this. The church argued, in its early days about whether Gentiles could become Christ followers. Then they argued about circumcision as a requirement for the gospel. Then they argued about eating certain meats. It’s no newsflash that this early church, empowered as they were by the Holy Spirit, didn’t agree on everything all the time. Why should things be any different, now that the gospel has taken on a million iterations as it has expanded to fill the globe, adapting to various cultural expressions and sometimes losing its essence for a while, only to be recovered later. The fact that good people disagree doesn’t mean both are right, or that God is absent. It just means this: good people aren’t really that good. Our capacity to know truth is tainted. Yes, we have the Spirit, but a quick look at church history tells us that people still missed the mark consistently, because we don’t only have the Holy Spirit, we have blind spots, and fallen natures.
Humility is the acknowledgement that this is how I understand, and am responding to God’s revelation. I’m trying to listen faithfully to the Holy Spirit, trying to do my homework, taking into account sound principles of Bible study and the view of the church historically on the given issue or text. But then, having arrived at my conviction, I need to be careful to say, “this is my belief”. Of course I believe I’m right. So do you. But humility is a posture that’s concerned about refining truth, purifying truth, discovering truth.. more than it’s concerned about defending itself. Humility proves itself valuable, for without it, we’d still have a wrong reading of Genesis 9, and slavery would be the result.
Humility doesn’t mean a lack of conviction. Nor does it mean a lack of spirited debate. It simply means that I’m continuing to look for truth, continually open to my understanding of God’s Word being reordered by further revelation. The best comments on the previous blog post displayed this kind of humility, and were evident from both the left and the right. This conversation, though, is very different from a culture war, because though we live our convictions with boldness, and are willing to pay the price, we do so with the belief that we’ve not yet arrived at a perfect understanding of the gospel. Those who want a pastor with a perfect understanding, a 140 character answer to every question, and a quick clever response that silences all those who disagree with him, don’t want me as their pastor. As long as I’m a pastor and a writer, I’ll articulate my convictions, and seek to live them out faithfully. I’ll also listen to your different view respectfully, and maybe, in the process, we’ll both become more like Jesus.
Note: I haven’t addressed, in this post, a response to requests regarding my reading of Romans 1. I’ll do that in the comments section of the previous post… hopefully tonight.