Shortly after that David Neff, a former editor of Christianity Today, came out in support of Tony's statements. To which the current editor-in-chief of CT, Mark Galli, offered a very well written and thoughtful rebuttal (here). Yet, as much as I loved his rebuttal he closed with a very odd statement:
"We’ll be sad, but we won’t panic or despair. Neither will we feel compelled to condemn the converts and distance ourselves from them."
I'll comment more on this in a moment.
Finally, on the same day as Tony's statement an article appeared in the New York Times titled, "Evangelicals open door to debate on gay rights" in which we learn that Matthew Vines, an ardent proponent of gay marriage and the inclusion of gays in the Christian community, himself claiming to be a Christian, is meeting with evangelical leaders in order to open the door to amicable debate on the subject.
In this article I was struck by one line in particular:
During the closing prayer, Mr. Sontag laid his hand on Mr. Vines’s back. Mr. Kaltenbach called Mr. Vines a “brother in Christ.”
This is where I would like to tie everything together. What the CT article and the NYT article have in common is that they both introduce us to people who seem to be very confused as to what the biblical response should be towards people claiming to be Christians and yet do or teach very unbiblical things. In case you can't figure it out let me state it plainly: Expel the wicked brother from among you (1 Corinthians 5:13 NIV).
I agree that we need to reach out to unbelievers and even invite them into our churches so that they may, by any means possible, hear the life changing, soul saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we should do this regardless of their sin. However we are not dealing with unbelievers here. We are dealing with those who claim to be followers of Christ. Yet the Church and leaders within the Church who should know better are continually patting these people on the back and basically telling them that everything is O.k. and that God loves them just the way they are.
When Israel was being formed into a nation God, their God, gave the following commandment:
“If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you."
(Deuteronomy 13:6-11 ESV)
Was God being mean? No. God knew how dangerous it was for his chosen people to flirt with sin. The history of Israel should be enough to silence any doubt. Would it be tough? You can't read the above words without realizing that it would indeed be tough. Perhaps this is part of the reason Israel, for the most part, ignored this command. Choosing between God and everyone and everything else continues to be tough. Sometimes that choice is the hardest choice we will ever make.
Obviously we aren't suppose to be killing people today. We are to love our neighbor and do as much as we possible can to see them enter the Kingdom. But the above passage underscores two points that have never changed. Sin must be dealt with in the life of the Church and that dealing will not always be easy. In fact, most of the time it won't be easy. In fact, it may seem, at the time, so cruel that it can be likened to killing our brother or sister.
In the New Testament church there are two reasons for expelling the wicked brother or sister. The first reason is so that somehow they will be saved (1 Cor. 5:5). Perhaps they will see what they've done is wrong. Perhaps they will dive so deep into their sin that they will suddenly come to a realization of how far they've fallen and call out to God for rescue. God only knows. But the second reason, which I believe is even more important than the first, is mentioned above. It is so that "all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you". It is so the Church will be protected. To ignore God's process for dealing with sin within the camp is to put the Church in great peril.
Unfortunately, I am afraid that we are simply seeing Israel's sin repeated in the modern church. The way God has called us too is too difficult so we have thrown out his rules and made up some of our own.
Chesterton once famously wrote, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."
Perhaps in our day and age we could amend that quote to say, "it has been found difficult and dropped".
It is time the Church got serious about the issue of sin in her midst. Just as in Israel's history we too are seeing that to put this off, for whatever well-intentioned reasons we may have for doing it, the end results are disastrous.