In my previous e-teaching in this series, I promised that I’d share with you the story of the biggest spiritual event in my life, besides being born again. I’ve told this story hundreds of times around the world since it happened. It is my tenth confession.
I was in the midst of my third church-planting pastorate, which began in 1991. In just a few years, the congregation had grown from five people (my wife, myself, and our three children) to close to 300 people (if you counted pregnant women twice, which I did). We’d rented public school space for several years and then purchased acreage on which we erected a church building. The sanctuary could seat 400 people. We borrowed $800,000 from the bank, and that, along with our savings, got us Sunday School rooms, wall-to-wall carpeting, air conditioning, offices, and a paved parking lot.
While I was attending Bible School almost four decades ago, I happened to notice a cute little Oklahoma girl named Becky Smith. The first thing that attracted me to her was her long hair, which I soon learned had never been cut. I mean never. The midwestern Pentecostal denomination that Becky’s family was involved with, known as the Free Holiness Church, sincerely believed it was a sin for women to cut their hair. So all the Free Holiness women had long hair. The older women kept their hair up in Pentecostal buns (something I’ve always considered a sin!).
Becky’s family lived near the Bible School where we were both enrolled, and I faithfully attended Becky’s family’s church three times a week during the time we dated. I was much more interested in her than I was in her family’s church. But it was at her church that I learned that there were many things people could do to sin that I had never heard about.
My third confession in last month’s e-teaching—an admission of visiting an Assembly of God church in the summer of 1976 and experiencing what they called “the baptism in the Holy Spirit”—leads to my fourth, fifth and sixth confessions this month. But first, some background.
One week after my Pentecostal experience, I began my freshman year at Penn State University with the intention of majoring in forestry. I soon became involved in a campus ministry called Lamb Fellowship. It was led by a group of young men who had all been influenced by the Charismatic Renewal Movement—begun in 1960 when Episcopalian priest Dennis Bennet announced to his California congregation that he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and had spoken in tongues. By the mid-1970s, the Charismatic Renewal was sweeping through traditional denominations across the U.S. and around the world. Those were amazing years.
Two months ago, I wrote an e-teaching that examined what I’ve termed “absolute nonresistance,” that is, the idea that in all cases and situations, Christians must never resist any evil person, to the degree of never defending themselves, or others, from those who would harm them, never taking another person to court, never serving in any branch of government or law enforcement, and never going to war. Contrasted with that is what might be called “everyday nonresistance,” the idea that Jesus expects His followers to “turn the other cheek” when suffering the minor offenses of everyday life.
Some of the good folks who subscribe to absolute nonresistance are persuaded that in His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus called His followers to a higher standard than what was expected of those under the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses clearly allowed for self-defense, defense of others, lawsuits, and wars, whereas Jesus, they point out, always expected His followers to “turn the other cheek.”
I certainly enjoyed reading the feedback, both positive and negative, to last month’s e-teaching, which centered around Jesus’ commandment to “turn the other cheek.” Because my position stands at odds with certain “nonresistance” theologies that are generally associated with the Anabaptist tradition, the negative feedback, as anticipated, came mostly from them. To their credit, most were very gracious.
Let me say from the start how deeply I respect those within the Anabaptist tradition, which includes Mennonites, the Amish, Hutterites, Brethren and various modern “true church” adherents. I respect anyone who is endeavoring to do the will of God. But may I also add that, sometimes, the most zealous God-loving people are the most susceptible to the kind of teaching that places a greater yoke upon them than Jesus’ easy yoke (see Matt. 11:30). Longing to prove their sincere love for God, pure-hearted people are often drawn to scriptures that seem to call them to make unusual sacrifices, scriptures which they then fail to interpret in the light of everything else God has said. To a degree, they end up “cutting off their hands and gouging out their eyes,” all “in obedience to what Christ clearly taught.”
When someone tells me that I’m sending him a mixed message, it indicates one of two problems. Either I am sending a mixed message and my listener has picked up on it, or I am not sending a mixed message, and my listener has misunderstood what I’m trying to communicate.
In the former case, I need to stop and ask myself why I’m sending a mixed message. Am I confused? Have I lied? Have I changed my position on the subject?
This month I’d like to continue to examine Matthew Vines’ novel interpretation of the six biblical texts that traditionally have been used to prove God’s disapproval of homosexuality. If you haven’t read last month’s e-teaching, I suggest you read that first. A professing Christian and author of the new book God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines boldly declares on his website that homosexuality is not a sin, and he “proves it from the Bible.”
Note: This e-teaching is for adults only.
I did not intend for this series on homosexuality to continue beyond three months, but in light of current events, as well as the feedback I’ve received, there seems to be a need to proceed further. You may have heard that World Vision, the world’s largest Christian humanitarian organization, last month announced a change in its employment policy, allowing the hiring of homosexuals who are legally married and “committed Christians.” Days later, World Vision’s board reversed their position, obviously due to donor displeasure. The issue is not only dividing professing Christians, but also dominating world headlines due to anti-homosexual developments in Russia and Uganda.
Although the Law of Moses was given to the descendants of Israel sometime around 1440 B.C., God had already given the entire human race another Law that predated the Mosaic Law by at least 2,500 years—a Law that He wrote upon every human heart. To that Law He held every person accountable, and against that Law every person sinned, which is why people died from Adam until Moses. As Paul points out:
So death spread to all men, because all sinned—for until the Law [of Moses] sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses (Rom. 5:12b-14a).
Thanks to all for the feedback, as well as questions, which I received in response to last month’s e-teaching titled, Five Modern Myths About Jesus’ Conversation with the Rich Young Ruler. Over the next few months, I’ll address some of those questions. This month, I’d like to tackle the most common one, which could be paraphrased, “How does what you taught last month harmonize with the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace and not works?”
Allow me to begin by rephrasing that question to, “How does what Jesus said to the rich young ruler harmonize with the doctrine of salvation by grace and not works?” I didn’t write the Bible, and it wasn’t me who had a conversation with that rich ruler 2,000 years ago. All I did last month is take Jesus at His word, something that consequently exposes the myths so commonly believed relative to His conversation with the rich ruler.