Monday, October 25, 2010

Christian Homosexuality is Heresy?

Today, I read an interesting interview which Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle had in 2008 with J.I. Packer.  The topic of discussion was homosexuality.   J.I. Packer came out and said that it was a form of heresy.  That's a pretty bold statement and requires explanation.  Basically, he has defined heresy as any teaching which contradicts the Gospel.   While most conservative Christians will agree that homosexuality is a sin, I wonder if some of you might ask the question, "but how is that heretical?"

It's simple.  One of the core things we do when we come to faith in Christ is we see that we are sinners who deserve death.  We acknowledge our sins and we repent of them.  Those who claim to be Christians and yet refuse to call homosexuality a sin and and turn from homosexual practice have refused to acknowledge their sins and repent.  They have taken what God has called evil and pronounced it as good.  Their unwillingness to turn from that sin places them clearly outside of the gospel and in a lost state.  By claiming otherwise, they have been deceived and are on a heretical path.

 The article is very good and I recommend it.  It is not very long and won't take any longer to read than my blog here has already taken you.

I wonder though if we can stop at this point in calling professing Christians heretics if they condone homosexuality?  I know of a woman who believes that it's not sinful to be living with her boyfriend because she prayed about it and God gave her a sense of peace.  As a professing Christian, has she become a heretic?  What about Christians who think that "white" lies are okay?  

I am not answering the question here-- I'm only raising it-- but what about blind spots in our own lives?   What about those areas of our lives where we think that we are fine before God and yet we are violating a teaching in his Word?  Do blind areas in our lives make us heretics?   What about differences of doctrine which have practical applications such as the Regulative Principle of Worship vs Normative Principle or Sabbath keeping?   What if we are wrong when we think it's okay to have a skit in the worship service and then eat out for lunch after the service?   If we are right we are okay but if we are wrong, are we suddenly in heresy?  Should we always err on the side of caution?  What about liberty?

I don't disagree with J.I. Packer at all and believe he is right.  I do wonder how far down the line we apply this though.  I hope this turns into a healthy discussion below in the comments.  Lets hash this out!


Jason said...

Well, my short answer revolves around our level of knowledge and the clarity of the issue in the Bible. My long answer follows.

There are passages that make it clear that we are to be guided by our consciences, which are to be trained by Scriptures. (Convoluted way of saying that we are to be guided by Scriptures, but the Scriptures are not always entirely clear about every single aspect of life.)

Where the rubber meets the road on this:

1. If our conscience condemns it, it is sin for us, even if the Bible does not condemn it. (It is our weakness, but weakness of this kind is to be understood and the weak well treated, not abused.)
2. If the Bible condemns it, it is sin for us even if our conscience does not. (This is more than weakness, it is a direct failing, except possibly when the person is too new in the faith to realize that it is clearly a sin according to the Bible.

If I had to discuss this whole matter, I would base my whole position, as I mentioned above, on the believer's level of knowledge and the clarity of the issue in Biblical teaching (and, I suppose, how the person reacts when shown clear teaching).

The Bible is abundantly and unarguably clear on (among other things):

Pre-marital sex

You cannot spend ANY amount of time in the Bible and not be absolutely clear on this. Believing Packer to be right about homosexuaoty, I would apply the same rule to all of these (and anything else about which the Bible is so abundantly clear).

The other factor is the person's level of knowledge and understanding. There are a number of things that are not quite so clear (or might take longer to understand).

So, is it sinning out of ignorance? How do you react when the teaching of that sin is made clear to you? Do you try to condone the sinful action? Do you repent and embrace the new teaching? Do you cling to your sin in spite of the teaching about the sin? If it is truly a blind spot, where we simply do not know better because we have had no reason to know better, then I wouldn't consider it, in itself, to be heretical. But if it is truly a blind spot, then we would change our actions if presented with clear Biblical teaching that the actions are sin. (The person teaching should be able to carry your conscience that the Bible does say that such is sin. If your only defense is rationalizing that perhaps the passage doesn't really mean that, then you already know in your conscience and heart that the teaching is true and are just seeking reasons to reject it.)

On the other hand, do we have reason to know that our actions are sinful? Is our 'blind spot' a wilful ignoring of what we know to be true or should know to be true? To my mind, no amount of peace about a sin about which the Bible is abundantly clear makes that sin ok for a professing believer. If Churches and professing Christians are heretical by turning against the Bible's clear teaching on the Bible for the reasons that Packer gave, then the woman you know is equally following a heretical path.

I don't think you could generally say that we are in heresy if we are wrong through ignorance. If we are wrong and know better (or should know better from our level of experience and instruction), then a different conclusion might be true.

Jason said...
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Jason said...
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Jason said...

As for how we choose to err on the side of caution or liberty, that is a tricky decision. The absolute first question is if it is a matter of liberty. Of course, that is a question of Biblical teaching and our understanding, again. There is much to be said about choosing to err on the side of caution. On the other hand, it is way too easy to become legalistic based on choosing the err on the side of caution. There are risks the other way, too.

So caution vs. liberty?

1. Study the Scriptures. Study especially to learn about the issue that causes you to question. Ask for counsel from those older/wiser/more experienced/more studied in the area.
2. Choose the option that meets the approval of your conscience, based on the results of your study and what guidance you have received. If you cannot reach a clear conclusion based on study and Biblical instruction, it may be better to choose to err on the side of caution, but I'm not sure I'd mandate that one should in every case. (But always question your motives in a decision based choosing to follow what you consider the path of liberty. Sometimes we are trying to convince ourselves that it is liberty when it is really just rebellion.)
3. Be open to the possibility that you are wrong and be open to receive teaching that contradicts your understanding and will require a change in your actions.
4. Be willing to change when given Biblically-based reason to change

Jason said...

Sorry, the system kept giving me error messages while actually duplicating my posts.

Jason Austin said...

Good answer Jason. I fully agree. Was hoping that the "answer" to my questions wouldn't be answered so quickly so that there would be more back and forth discussion but you basically have voiced my position pretty closely.

One exception-- I despise the philosophy of "erring on the side of caution" In my opinion, it is usually used as a device to control others. Give council, but where there is no clarity, "err on the side of liberty" would be the better solution.

Those who cry caution are those who don't want to see others have more freedom than where their own conscience will allow.

I say this as an absolute but I am sure there are many people who genuinely and sincerely with the best of motivation speak of caution, but from my experience, it hasn't often been the case.

Jason said...
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Jason said...

One must still determine, between the Scriptures and their conscience, what they consider to be caution vs liberty. While I may counsel (with hesitation and qualifiers) to consider choosing to 'err on the side of caution', I don't presume to dictate what defines the side of caution for them. When you are dealing with unclear issues, it becomes a question of how comfortable are you in your conscience with a certain course of action. Where one person is comfortable, another would not be.

I don't counsel caution lightly just as I don't counsel liberty lightly. There are many problems caused by going extreme on either side, even staying inside the framework of what the Bible provides.

I certainly don't advise caution to hinder the freedom of another. My opinion of those that cry caution to limit the freedom and liberty of conscience of another (where it is a matter about which the Bible is vague/unclear) fall high on my list of the people for which I think 'Judge not' was intended. Since that passage is clearly not about prohibiting showing good judgment (or even acknowledging that certain behaviors are inhertently sinful), the answer of what it means resides elsewhere. I see a large portion of that being in legalistic restricting the liberty of others where the Bible does not condemn. They set a standard that the Bible does not, and proceed to judge and restrict everyone (ELSE) by that standard.

As for 'err on the side of caution', I think it would be a better clarification of what I feel to say:

Where the Bible is clear, your only choice (and the heart of liberty) is to follow the clear meaning. When clarity is lacking enough to create a range of options, none in direct conflict with any clear teachings from the Bible (after study and counsel), ask yourself how concerned you are in your conscience that your understanding may be insufficient to a properly moral choice. (Are you confident in your conscience, from the results of your study/Biblical counsel received, that all the choices you are considering are morally valid and legitimate?) If so, then choose the action you wish. If it is truly a matter of liberty, then you are at liberty to choose any of the considered options as a lifestyle/course of action, once you have removed the clearly sinful choices. If, however, you are going to spend time concerned, second guessing yourself, and uneasy in your conscience because your considered choice of a liberty may not be appropriate/right, then reconsider choosing to err in the DIRECTION of caution.

(In other words, if you feel, from study and counsel, that all your considered choices are probably morally valid and legitimate, but some of the choices on the most liberty-based side of the spectrum make you uneasy as to either their certain validity as moral or their morality for you in your conscience, then seriously consider selecting a choice closer to the side of caution.)

Jason said...
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Jason said...

Remember that after the clear dictates of the Bible are addressed, sin is largely determined by our conscience. (At least in the direction of stating that something is, for us specifically, a sin.) Indeed, there is at least one passage that makes it abundantly clear that even if something truly is a matter of liberty, it can be a sin for us if our conscience (wrongly) condemns it. The Bible also makes abundantly clear that I and my consciences are not to be governed by your conscience, though the Bible does say that we should refrain from at least some liberties in the PRESENCE of a weaker brother.

This all ends up leading to a very complex and convoluted discussion involving very complex morality issues. Practical result in my life? I am currently trying to work through some issues that are at least partly issues of liberty. While I am trying to resolve them to what I can consider Biblically-based choices, I am striving to neither approach it from a totally lawless liberty perspective or a completely legalistic caution perspective. (See how the farthest extremes fit into the picture?) There are other matters that I am convinced are liberty and am comfortable, based on my knowledge of the Bible and what instruction I have received, that my exercise of liberty there is completely valid. Some of those choices, though, I will NOT exercise the fullest considered measure of my liberty around certain friends due to their own level of understanding and the fact that the same liberty would certainly be sin for them in their present understanding of Scriptures. By exercising my liberty in their presence, it because a temptation to sin for them. THAT, I think, is were we must show the greatest level of caution (and in some cases choose to lay aside certain of our liberties). At the same time, those are also decisions that we have to make for ourselves. They cannot be legitimately dictated to us by another.

The counter to 'err on the side of caution' being used as a device to control others (or for others to control us), is to remember that it is only a legitimate device for us to control ourselves individually. We should ALWAYS flee any attempt to force our conscience upon another (or to be victimized by them thrusting theirs upon us.) Not abusing or attempting to restrict the legitimate, spiritual liberties of another starts with us.

Jason said...

This error and duplication thing is really starting to annoy me.

Jason said...
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