Pagan America – Part 3
How do followers of Jesus live out their faith and proclaim the Gospel in a pagan United States?
This is the question for today.
First, the church and true followers of Jesus must come to terms with where the culture is and not where we want it to be. If we continue to insist we are a Christian nation and that a culture war must be fought to preserve this status, the church will be wholly ineffective. To the extent that there ever was such a war, it is over. We live within the midst of paganism. Period. We must now get on with being the church where we are planted.
And the Bible gives us great guidance here, specifically in the book of Romans. Yes, Romans. A letter written by Paul to Christians living in Rome, the seat of first century paganism – ruled by Nero, who knowingly engaged in homosexual acts and married at least two men. A city worshipping a plurality of gods and given over to hedonism. A city where Christianity was emerging and would eventually dominate.
Paul tells us in his first chapter that in this setting, first and foremost, he was “not ashamed of the gospel because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek (Romans 1:16).” That’s right…even a Greek man or woman can be saved if they believe in and follow Jesus. But the Greeks / Romans were pagan? Yes, and that is the point. First century Christianity seems to have flourished in pagan Rome because it opened the door to sinners.
All sinners. No matter the sin.
And so there is a lesson here, I think. We have been very good in the church at categorizing sin. There are big sins and small sins. The big sins get special attention. The problem with special attention for big sin is that special attention tends to drive people away. As the first chapter of Romans proceeds, Paul makes it very clear, crystal clear, in fact, that homosexual behavior is an outcome of a rejection by man of Yahweh as their God. When a people or civilization or nation jettisons God in the public square, God’s reaction is to “give them over.” And that giving over manifests itself in twisted sexual desire. As Paul writes, “females exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. The males in the same way also left natural relations with females and were inflamed in their lust for one another (Romans 1:26-27).” Something tells me that were similar words to be uttered in the public square in the United States today that the term “hate speech” would be invoked. I doubt seriously that Paul would have been invited to pray at the President’s Inauguration.
But let us not take Paul’s words out of context. This depravation of sexual desire is not the whole story on cultural sin and rebellion against God. Paul goes on to more fully define what is “morally wrong. They are filled with unrighteousness, evil, greed, and wickedness. They are full of envy, murder, quarrels, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, arrogant, proud, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, and unmerciful.”
Wow. That is quite a list. We must note, because it is so, so important, that homosexual behavior gets thrown into the mix, on equal ground, with gossiping… with greed (can we say Wall Street)… with envy (wishing I had my friend’s stuff)… disobedience to parents (who among us is not guilty), etc.
You get the point. Sin is sin. Period.
Those who advocate for same-sex marriage, even those who claim to be Christians, have criticized the church for singling out homosexuality as a sin. They point out, and rightfully so, that Christians have just as high a divorce rate as non-Christians. They point out that adultery takes place in the church all the time yet gay people get special attention with their sin.
Gay people want equal rights. The same-sex marriage debate / battle / war has been framed as one of civil rights. Gay people want the same right to marry as everyone else. They don’t want to be put on the side and given “special attention” any longer.
I am here to say, “Okay.” No more special attention. BUT that does not mean that I embrace, endorse, condone, or celebrate sin. Any sin. Even the sin of homosexual behavior. The gay community wants an equal playing field. I am willing to give it to them. All sin is equal in my view and, I believe, God’s view too.
And I would like to level the playing field even further. “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).” All people have sinned and all sin condemns. I am no better nor worse than the liar, the gossip, the proud, the man who lusts, or the man who has an affair, whether it be with a woman or another man. I have my sin and you have yours. And we both need salvation.
Many Christians and many churches have chosen to take a different path in order to live in a pagan United States. They have sadly chosen to ignore Paul’s clear words to Christians living in pagan Rome, and have instead chosen the path of accommodation. They have chosen to believe that perhaps God has evolved and changed when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. Perhaps God even created some people gay. This path, obviously, leads to it’s own end. That end is one where we take what God has declared to be a sin and we give it “special attention” and declare that it is no longer sin. In this way, the pro same-sex marriage crowd has become guilty of that which it decried.
It is dangerous ground to label that which is sin (no matter what that sin is) as no longer sin. It is actually self-deception. While rebelling against God, which is what sin really is, they have deceived themselves into thinking they are actually drawing close to God. And as I said, many Christians and whole churches and denominations have chosen this path. This path is dangerous because it doesn’t truly help people. You do not help the alcoholic by telling him that God created him this way and thus it’s okay to drink his liver to death. You don’t help the porn addict by telling him that it’s not hurting anyone, while his marriage dissolves in a flurry of unmet sexual expectations on the part of his wife. The first step to repentance is to agree with God about your sin. If you cannot agree with God about your sin you cannot repent of your sin.
Why do some Christians and churches take this path? I believe it is because they know someone, are close to someone, who is gay. A life-long friend, or perhaps a family member. They know that their gay friend is not a bad person and they have watched as they have suffered in the shadow of public and religious scrutiny. They love them and feel sorry for them and they truly want them to be happy. And so they cave. It becomes easier, for their sake, to remove the label of sin. And of course, that is exactly how the Great Deceiver wants it.
Sin has broken this world. I don’t hate gay people but I sure hate sin. All sin. Sin cripples. Sin destroys. Sin breaks. My war and my wrestling are not against flesh and blood. It’s important that this be said. The war is a spiritual one against sin and the author of sin. As a Christian, I love people. All people. Did you notice on Paul’s list of sin in Romans 1 that “unloving” is included. Oh, may it not be said that Christians are unloving or unmerciful. And because we love people, all people…regardless of sin, we choose to stand for the gospel of Jesus Christ, without shame. Even if it not politically correct. Even if it leads to lawsuits. Even if we are called haters instead of lovers.
There is a culture war but not against any one sin, but against all sin. And this war will not be won until Christ returns. Once an alcoholic always an alcoholic. If your sin is anger you will likely struggle with anger issues your whole physical life. If you are attracted sexually to people of the same-sex this then is your struggle. Some find deliverance from their temptations in this lifetime and many do not.
And THAT is why we need a Savior. Even so come quickly Lord Jesus.