We All Believe Something

UMC Split

We should all thank Christ our Lord who has given us his strength and considered us faithful, appointing us to be writers, teachers, and preachers in his service. Too often we have been violent men and women, if not with fists, with our words. We have persecuted those who disagreed with us. Called them names, filed lawsuits against individuals and businesses and, without love, used the Sword of the Spirit to stab those with whom we disagree.  – The Apostle Paul paraphrased from 1 Timothy 1:12-13

Our goal in writing, speaking, teaching, and preaching should come from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. – The Apostle Paul paraphrased from 1 Timothy 1:5

God has charged us to be diligent, warning that if we ignore his call, he may remove the gift entrusted to us. We are not called to rebuke harshly. Rather, we should come to others with tenderness, urging all to invite the Spirit of Christ to live within, to work within, and to transform our minds and character.

We do not simply read God’s Word. God’s Word read us.

We do not “get into” God’s Word. God’s Word gets into us.

If we persevere in both reading and doing the words of God and watch our doctrine closely, we may save not only ourselves a great deal of harm, but also save those who hear God’s message of love in our lessons, lectures, and writings.

“Save those who hear God’s message of love. . . ” This is the issue dividing the United Methodist Church over same-sex marriage.

It is hard to allow someone you love to become lost. If you know a family member or close friend caught in a cycle of addiction, then you understand the pain that comes when all your efforts to rally the individual and turn them back towards sobriety fail. Who of us, in such a situation, would encourage more addictive behavior? Who of us would enable those we love to rush further into darkness?

And yet this is where the United Methodist Church is today. There are two sides who claim the mantle of love.

One shows love through affirmation. The other shows love through transformation. One shows love through inclusion. The other shows love through the exclusion of sin and its power. One shows love through a message of liberation. The other shows love through the death of The Messenger who came to set all men free.

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:1 & 13

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” – John 8:31

Christ is that truth. And that truth sets us free from sin through his death.

We know that our old self was crucified with Christ so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. – Romans 6:5-6

So let us put aside this notion that one side hates and the other loves. Both sides love, but in different ways.

Now as to the matter of the desires of the flesh, consider how God dealt with such immorality.

The men of the city called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” – Genesis 19:5

There is much that could be said about Sodom and Gomorrah, little of which is good, but there can be no denying that their rampant sexual sin had become so grievous in the sight of God that the plea for help from its victims had reached his throne.

The Lord said, “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know.” Genesis 18:20

In much the same way pornography enslaves so many today, unbridle lust for sexual gratification controlled the lives of those living in Sodom and Gomorrah.

“Look,” said Lot, “I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” Genesis 19:8

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves ,nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. – I Corinthians 6:9-10

We would do well to remember that our lust of the flesh, if left unchecked, can drive us to act in ways that harms not only ourselves, but others. One sin often leads to others. This is especially so within the Church. Once the Church tolerated the sin of slavery. Today the history of that sin is used to justify our tolerance for sexual sin. Sex before marriage, divorce, and adultery has led to the death of millions of aborted children.

With free will we are free to believe any number of things. We can believe there is no God, and many do. We can believe that human sexuality has changed over time, and many do. We can believe that God changes over time, and many do.

And yet God says he, “Does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.” 1 Samuel 15:29

As to the specific matter of same-sex relations, God says:

Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is an abomination. – Leviticus 18:22

If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is an abomination. – Leviticus 20:13

We know that the law is made for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. – I Timothy 1:10

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. – Romans 1:26-17

Of course we know these verses. They have been shared countless times as proof that God hates ____ and here we add names, labels, letters, and lifestyles. But is “hate” the best adjective to describe God’s view on this matter?

While it is true that God calls the act “an abomination” תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה, might his purpose not be for “setting apart” for correction rather than destruction.

“The law is made for those who practice what is contrary to the sound doctrine.”

Let us not forget that for 10 righteous individuals he would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah. God goes to great lengths to spare us, even to offering his only son as payment for our sins.

This Hebrew word תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה is found sixteen times in Scripture and is always associated with separation, rejected, or set apart for destruction.
“Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה able to Egyptians.” Genesis 43:32
“Do not bring a תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה thing into your house or you, like it, will be set apart for destruction. Regard it as vile and utterly תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה it, for it is set apart for destruction.” Deuteronomy 7:26.
“Her first husband, who divorced her, is not allowed to marry her again after she has been defiled. That would be תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה in the eyes of the Lord.” Deuteronomy 24:4
“Do not eat any תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה thing.” Deuteronomy 14:3
“If anyone turns a deaf ear to my instruction, even their prayers are תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה.” Proverbs 28:9
“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה to me.” Isaiah 1:13
“But you are less than nothing and your works are utterly worthless; whoever chooses you is תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה.” Isaiah 41:24
“Are they ashamed of their תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.” Jeremiah 6:15 & Jeremiah 8:12
“They were haughty and did תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” Ezekiel 16:50
“In you one man commits a תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה offense with his neighbor’s wife, another shamefully defiles his daughter-in-law, and another violates his sister, his own father’s daughter.” Ezekiel 22:11
“You rely on your sword, you do תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה things, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife. Should you then possess the land?’ Ezekiel 33:26

God’s purpose seems to be to put out of his presence those who are תּוֹעֵבָ֖ה  in order that they might be motivated to turn back to him. This is in keeping with God’s persistent call for us to repent. A parent who places their child in “time out” does not do this out of hate, but love. Mom or dad is simply trying to instruct the child in what the parent believes to be acceptable behavior. Should we not allow God to deal with us in a similar manner?

Now as to the matter of marriage Jesus says:

“At the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Mark 10:6-9

No longer two, but one. A new creation. This union is both mysterious (two becoming one), but also holy, for it is not we who couple the man and woman but God. He joins them together. This union is of such value in God’s eyes that Christ later says:

“I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” Matthew 5:32

Christ seems to be saying that if a husband and wife choose to live apart, they remain united in a way that cannot be altered. It is as if Jesus is saying that we cannot uncreate what God creates. Certainly, throughout nature and all of creation this is the case. We can care for our planet, animals, people, but we cannot uncreate our planet, animals, people. We can destroy, but we cannot uncreate what God has established.

At this point some might ask: “But couldn’t God change his mind regarding marriage, and specifically, same-sex relationships?” After all, God seems to have changed his mind when it comes to what we can and cannot eat.

Jesus said, “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) – Mark 7:18-19

About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” – Acts 10:9-15

Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 14:14-17

Paul wrote in his letter to the Timothy, “Hypocritical liars forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” – 1 Timothy 4:3-5

Peter said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” – Acts 10:28

If God nullified the Levitical laws regarding food, can he not also nullify his commands regarding sexual immorality? If, as Paul says, “everything God created is good,” then is not all marriage between two people in love also good?

Some might argue that when God gave Moses the Law, mankind behaved in certain ways that seemed unnatural but now, with science and our enlightened examination, is considered normal.

If such is the case, then we are left to ask: How can an all knowing, all seeing, all powerful God fail to see future events. How is it that God failed to take into account for genetic predispositions that prompt some to be attracted to members of the same sex?

Perhaps at this point we should turn to the words of Jesus to get his perspective on marriage and sexual relationships.

Jesus said, “You have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” – Revelation 2:6

The name Nicolas is associated with the Greek root word meaning “conqueror” or “destroyer”–an apt label when one considers the current split within the United Methodist Church. In later letters to the churches, Jesus seems to link the practices of the Nicolaitans with the practices of those who listened to Balaam.

According to theopedia.com the, “Nicolaitans were one of the heretical sects that plagued the churches at Ephesus and at Pergamum.” Revelation 2:6,15. “Irenaeus identifies them as followers of Nicolas, one of the seven chosen in Acts 6, and as men who “lead lives of unrestrained indulgence. The doctrine of the Nicolaitans appears to have been a form of antinomianism, which makes the fatal mistake that man can freely partake in sin because the Law of God is no longer binding.”
https://www.theopedia.com/nicolaitans

Jesus said, “I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” – Revelation 2:14-15

Balaam encouraged Israel’s enemies to use sexual seduction to weaken God’s people. Through compromise with the society around them, God’s people committed sexual immorality and defiled themselves with foreign women. Moses called it the “Peor incident” (Numbers 31:15–16). By sleeping with the Moabite women, some of Israel’s men brought God’s judgment on the camp.

Jesus said, “I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” – Revelation 2:20

Once more Jesus cites sexual immorality as a reason for why he, “will make those who commit adultery with [Jezebel] to suffer intensely.” He will do this so that all the churches will know that “I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.” Finally, we find Jesus concluding the end of all things with this warning.

Jesus said, “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.” – Revelation 22:15

Who are these “dogs” Christ speaks of? This word for “dog is κύων (kuón) and only occurs five times in the New Testament and always in unflattering ways. The term is meant to symbolize things that God hates, are impure, sinful and disgusting.

These “dogs” κύων are fixated on outward appearances, in this case genital mutilation.

Watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh. – Philippians 3:2

These “dogs” κύων prey on the weak and helpless.

In the Parable of the Rich Fool Jesus said, “Even the dogs came and licked his [Lazarus] sores.” Luke 16:21

In the eyes of Jews, these “dogs” κύων are comparable to pigs. These dogs serve as an example of someone who is saved and later rejects the salvation found in Christ and returns to their old way of life.

“For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error.

“They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for  people are slaves to whatever has mastered them.”

“If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it (worldly desires) and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.

“Of them the proverbs are true: “A dog returns to its vomit, and a sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.” – 2 Peter 2:18-22

These “dogs” κύων “are vicious.

Jesus said, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” – Matthew 7:6

According to Jesus, these “dogs” κύων “ will remain outside the new Jerusalem and have no part in the Kingdom of God.

We all believe something, but what we believe has eternal consequences. This is especially so for those in the Church who serve as leaders, deacons, elders, pastors, teachers, preachers, and even writers and authors. Anytime we council others on the ways of God we should do so in holy fear.

Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.” – Luke 17:2-3

A runner stone might weigh up to 3,300 pounds. Hung around a person’s neck, it would take them down so fast there would be no chance to escape.

If anyone’s teaching does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have been robbed of the truth. 1 Timothy 6:3-5

For certain individuals have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. – Jude 1:4

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Romans 16:17-18

What we believe is, to a large degree, the intrinsic nature of who we are. Our beliefs determine our actions. Our actions determine our destiny. Wherever you are going, that’s where you will be.

Plot your course carefully.