A welcoming church?
Who is welcome at church? The answer assumed in the Ma Whea? and Doctrinal Commissions’ reports is simple – everyone. Jesus would agree. “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). However, the welcome that Jesus (and therefore the church) extends does not equate to ‘everyone is welcome to come and then choose to live and believe whatever they want’. The welcome Jesus extends must be heard alongside the truth that he (and therefore the church) declares our beliefs and behaviours must be transformed. That is, brought into conformity with the nature of God (Matt 5:48). This is the form of Jesus’ welcome: “neither do I condemn you; but go, sin no more” (Jn 8:11).
In keeping with our received tradition which prioritises the authority of Scripture, the church’s stance has always been that certain forms of behaviour are indeed ‘sinful’ – period/full stop. In and of itself, this firm conclusion does not judge any individual who engages in such activity, either as being any worse than other sinful human beings who also sin, or as being somehow deemed irredeemably ‘impure’. Here the Commission’s language of “inclusion” is trying to make important and necessary points.
However, to use the language of inclusion in an unqualified sense is misleading. Nowhere does the New Testament condemn homosexuals; nor does it condone heterosexuals over them; indeed, the very binary language of “hetero/homosexual” is itself a recent invention. Rather, Scripture condemns homoeroticism on the one hand and porneia on the other, two possible kinds of behaviour indulged in by certain folk, and both equally expressive of sin.
It is vitally important that we see these behaviors as expressions of sin, just as theft and hatred and pride and greed and murder are similarly all due expressions of that same sinful condition that Jesus came to redeem us all from. If we get hung-up on sexuality it is probably because this feature of our nature comes closest to the Creator’s, as we share in the work of making a creature destined for eternity. Whether we personally wrestle with sexual desires towards those of the same gender, or whether our personal battles are fought over matters of pride, or apathy, or anger, the call of the Lord Jesus is to come – and be transformed once more into the fullness of the divine image in which we were made.
Indeed, the grace of the gospel is that Jesus welcomes us and transforms us. Irrespective of whether there has been “a significant shift in societal understandings” (A.1.3) regarding homosexual activity, such “shifts” must never necessarily determine a similar Christian move. Let us not forget the significance of Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:1-2. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercies, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual/reasonable worship. Do not be conformed to this world/age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Rev. Dr. Bryden Black
Bryden is Priest Assistant at St Christophers, Avonhead, Christchurch, and a member of the Latimer Fellowship