Daily Roll – Reflections

Life, God and the things inbetween

A Bridge Between Statements & a Bridge Between Worlds: Why I call myself a gay (or SSA) celibate Christian

Nashville Statement

As the news came out with the new Nashville Statement and Denver Statements this last day, I wanted to articulate why I call myself a gay (or same-sex attracted) celibate Christian. The deeper reasons for this will be outlined in my up coming book, A War of Loves: The Story of a Gay Rights Activist Who Finds Jesus Christ with Zondervan. I wanted to write and clarify what I mean and why I use this term. As someone who became a Christian from being an anti-Christian gay activist, I do not, in every sense, want to distance myself from the community I come from and which I love and labour for in the Gospel.

The first reason is to maintain scriptural authority. Whilst scripture is clear homosexual acts are sinful, it also clearly maintains that the born again or regenerate Christian lives in tension between their fallen nature, or “flesh,” that is at enmity with God and the new self, which now desires to love and obey God.[1] When we become born again believers, our flesh is crucified with Christ but is also still present in moments of temptation or testing. Our victories in Christ are manifested in our weakness and in our fallen flesh, not in a perfected body. Conversely, the regenerate self is born when we believe, repent from unrighteousness, and receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Saviour[2], being indwelt by the Holy Spirit. John holds these two realities in tension: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us,” and then later John speaks of the concurrent presence of God’s sanctifying power: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God.”  Commenting on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, J. I. Packer writes about Paul’s gospel: 

“With some of the Corinthian Christians, Paul was celebrating the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in heterosexual terms; with others of the Corinthians, today’s homosexuals are called to prove, live out, and celebrate the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in homosexual terms.”

Finding the moral empowering—and the grace and consolation—of the Holy Spirit “in homosexual terms” is, it seems to me, what leads many of us to label ourselves “celibate gay Christians.” To deny the present struggle and say I’ve been “healed” from all temptations of the flesh is often the error the Corinthians made of thinking they were already resurrected or without a flesh and yet behind closed doors were still indulging sinful behaviours. The scholar Anthony Thiselton coins it, “over-realised eschatology.” On the flipside, to deny that God will not transform us to live in victory over these desires is to commit the error of  “under-realised eschatology.” In other words, we are still being made holy and we aren’t yet perfect. These are both scriptural errors that lead to sinfulness, to endorse or to deny the presence of such fallen desires is equally wrong, and hence why I call myself a gay celibate Christian.

My second reason is theological accuracy. For the gay or same-sex attracted person, this biblical vision of what it means to be redeemed is particularly complex–it is not like an addiction to alcohol, or a stronghold of judging others with pride, which are voluntary behaviours. To be attracted to the same sex is not a voluntary behaviour, but a result of the Fall. As Wesley Hill, a New Testament Professor and gay celibate Christian, states:

 “Many suggest that a parallel case would be if someone were to label himself an ‘adulterous Christian’ or a ‘stealing Christian.’ Those terms are self-evidently problematic in that they make sinful behaviors part of an identity description for believers, and therefore gay Christians should find their chosen label equally problematic.

My response to this is that those are not, in fact, parallel cases. ‘Gay’ in current parlance doesn’t necessarily refer to sexual behavior; it can just as easily refer to one’s sexual orientation and say nothing, one way or the other, about how one is choosing to express that orientation. So, whereas ‘stealing Christian’ certainly denotes the behavior of stealing, ‘gay Christian’ may simply refer to the erotic inclinations of the Christian who claims that identity and leave open the question of whether he or she is sexually active with members of his or her own sex.”

This is why I rarely, if ever, use the phrase “gay Christian” without adding another adjective: “celibate,” meaning committed to a life of chasteness in Christ. To call myself a “celibate gay Christian” specifies both my sexual orientation and the way I’m choosing to live it out. While it’s not bad to desire companionship because humans were made in the image of God as relational beings, the reality is that we have all been impacted by the Fall. There’s a particular entanglement for gay or same-sex attracted people in that the image of God and our fallen sexual desires mean that we cannot just simply enter into a union between one man and one woman. This is the very difficult conundrum we face.

Regeneration untangles the sinful aspect from the God-given desire for intimacy through celibacy or, for some, a special grace to be married to a particular member of the opposite sex. Very few homosexual people report that when they become Christians, these desires simply disappear. Rather, most find that these desires do not change, but that God gives them a special empowering grace to either be celibate or married. In my case, I have chosen a default of celibacy.

My third reason is to be prophetic. Those of us who are orthodox, evangelical Christians with same-sex attractions need to reclaim the label back from secular culture. Like those who are gay and actively in relationships, we have all had a similar experience with the same fallen desires and dealing with them in a fallen world that is prejudiced and unloving. We have the unique opportunity to break a culture of victimhood and restore a culture of dignity. The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality, it is holiness. We need to stand for a different way to live in the gay community, and welcome them into the Church to receive Jesus’ love. Also, many of those pressured by Christian culture to say they have been “healed” live with secret sexual sin and shame. We must break such a culture of silence in many churches and encourage a culture of repentant honesty before God and with each other. Anything else will allow spiritual darkness to fester, grieving the Spirit of truth.

The fourth reason is related to identity. When Christians receive Christ, we repent from what is sinful in our lives. But that doesn’t mean we have to renounce our particular humanity which is shaped both by God and our experience in this fallen world and this fallen body. As a gay celibate Christian, Christ is my ultimate identity; gay and celibate come second. My identity is first and foremost in Christ, but secondarily anchored in the redemptive story of God’s grace in my life.

The fifth reason is reconciliatory (or, to love my “enemies”). I was saved when I was heavily involved in the gay rights movement, and I know not everything in the gay community is evil, “licentious,” or wrong, but rather the gay community is full of people who are loved by God and need to know His love and gospel.  Furthermore, I am often opposed or attacked for my stance by the gay world as well as the Christian world. We as Christians have built a prejudiced stereotype and generalisation of the gay community. Promiscuity and sexual orientation must be separated in our thinking. Similarly, with the Samaritans, Jesus ignored the taboo of his day and went to speak to arguably one of the most “morally questionable” peoples of his time; not just that, but he also spoke to the woman at the well who also had a sexually broken past. There is a distinction between the gay scene, which is commercial, broken, and sexually libertine, and the gay community which is composed of all people who experience same-sex desire.

My sixth reason is strategic. Paul was a Jew and remained a Jewish Christian. However, his view of Judaism changed. The Law no longer made him right with God, but faith in Christ through grace. Paul was unique and in the rare situation of being both a Jewish national and a Roman citizen. His Roman citizenship protected him from certain deadly persecutions and opened huge doors for the Gospel. Like Paul, I and others like me have the unique capacity to speak to both gay culture and Christian culture. I still identify as a gay person but have given my sexuality entirely to God and died to it, letting it be crucified with Christ submitting to God’s teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman and the only context for sexual intimacy. Today, “gay Christian” to some automatically means a person who is seeking a gay marriage. This simply does not reflect the true landscape of Christians that are gay and Christian and need representation in a media scene that is dominated by one powerful voice that does not represent all of us, the minority within a minority.

My seventh and final reason is evangelistic. Mainstream secular culture does not understand the term “same-sex attracted” and feels alienated by the term the “gay lifestyle”–this is “Christianese language.” These “othering,” misrepresentative terms put hindrances in the way of reaching the secular world for whom this question is a massive barrier to understanding the gospel. In the ministry I have been called to, I want to focus on in removing boundaries, both existential, intellectual, and spiritual to the gospel. Identifying in some way with others in the gay world opens a unique door to share the gospel, and speaks against the horrible treatment Christians have often meted out to the gay community. We have failed to reach, value, and love the gay community, but are very happy to moralise and judge. This is anything but the love and truth, the radical differentiation (holiness and truth), and radical identification (compassion and mercy) that Jesus showed to all.

For these and intellectual reasons, I cannot sign the Nashville Statement (and even more so the Denver statement for that matter!), especially article 7: “we deny that adopting a homosexual or transgender self-conception is consistent with God’s holy purposes as revealed in creation and redemption.” This is a blatant misunderstanding of Christian eschatology – people are not finally redeemed yet although marked for such redemption and thus must be real and honest about their humanity, broken and otherwise, identifying in their weakness as well as their strength. Same-sex attraction is a unique and complex entanglement of the image of God and the fallen human flesh or sin nature. To deny this, is to commit the error of ‘over-realised eschatology,’ thinking Heaven has now come and the human flesh has disappeared, even if being crucified. It is to cut off the human good of desiring a partner embedded in homosexual or erotic desire, branding it entirely wrong or sinful.

It is not like other situations. Homosexual experience and identity needs to be listened to, understood and a new identity developed in Christ that can incorporate that reality in celibacy or interorientation marriage without leading to sinful realities like SSM marriage, forced marriages that are not given by grace or legalistic celibacy. This patently excludes Wesley Hill, Ron Belgau, myself and many other faithful gay/SSA celibate Christians. I am deeply disappointed with the lack of conversation around this statement and it shows a failure to understand the anthropology of repentant SSA/gay people who choose to identify with the LGBTQI community on the level of their plight in 76 nations where it is illegal and 7 where they can be executed and the incredible pain they go through, including the plight of thousands of refugees fleeing because of this from Russia, the Middle-east etc. This statement falsely makes the narrow path Jesus has designed pharisaically narrower. This is not Jesus’ way.

I was once an anti-Christian gay rights activist who knows that to be on the other side. I vote no. I would sign if certain articles were better qualified to what exactly homosexual or transgender self-conception means. The theological anthropology present is erring on clumsily biblicist, not biblical exegesis and the statements do not represent all evangelically minded people. Until I see that, my response is no. Let’s not communicate in a way that shuts down people like myself who are trying to reach the LGBTQI community with the true Gospel of Jesus Christ and who are standing against the onslaught of liberal attacks on us. The last thing we need is friendly fire. We must point them to the “washed and waiting” tension we all live in as repentant gay/SSA Christians. I deeply love and respect my brothers and sisters of all kinds and stand in grace as we all work this out but for now I say no. We must lead from the front with the love and truth of Jesus Christ together, not from behind with a limited understanding of homosexual experience. I am praying for a better way forward in that grace – will you join me?

[1] Romans 8:7

[2] John 3:4-8

Advertisements

The Bishops’ Decision: My reflection on General Synod and participating in Shared Conversations

Stone statues of saints inside York Minster cathedral York UK

With thanksgiving and praise to our Heavenly Father and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ, I am truly overcome with joy by the Bishops’ decision today to retain the Church’s teaching on the sacrament of marriage as being between a man and a woman: the very image of God expressed in sexual union between two partners who are both distinct and like one another, body, soul and spirit, like God is distinct within himself and yet one essence, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I have felt to join my voice with the Bishops decision today, I have decided to write a short reflection on my experience speaking as one of the four panel members at the General Synod to share their experience of being gay and Christian. This was a significant moment in history and I hope it blesses you:

As I arrived in York, my heart was thumping. Entering the University of York campus, I prayed in the Holy Spirit, asking God to speak His words through me. Pulling up near the meeting hall, I was reminded of a Christian mission I had led years before and seen many people come to know the Lord Jesus as their personal Lord and saviour. The joy of knowing Jesus Christ was the real reason I was coming to share at the General Synod of the Church of England. I knew God had called me to make history that day and had appointed me for such a time as this.

As a member of the Living Out team, I was invited personally by the Archbishop along with three other panel members of a similar age who all had seven minutes to share their stories in front of 500+ major leaders, arch/bishops, rectors, lay people. For me, the decision over same-sex marriages in the church wasn’t just a matter of personal significance, this was a prophetic call and one that had cost me personally so much, but also brought me profound joy. I had come with a message from the Lord to be heard through my story and testimony. As we were ushered on to the stage, the sea of faces blurred. These were only one tiny portion of the huge cloud of witnesses who had given their lives to Christ that were in my mind. As others shared their stories, I felt the Holy Spirit come on me and God say “I am proud of you, David, my beloved son… I have called you to speak my Word to my people. Do not fear man, fear me alone. Thank you for being hot, and not lukewarm.”

As I got up and shared my personal testimony, the message that rushed through my veins like a fire that could not be contained. Jesus Christ is the Lord of His Church. What the world says, what we say, does not matter at the end of the day. What truly matters is what He says and His will and desires are. Tears poured down from my eyes as I spoke. As I looked across the audience I saw my family of my brothers and sisters peering at me; many who I knew had sinned awfully against me – deleted me off Facebook, sent horrible private messages to me, but many who I knew had loved me so deeply and given their blood sweat and tears to love me. I was filled with the deepest weightiness as I went to open my mouth. A pin-drop suspense and silence hushed the place.  This wasn’t just about sexuality or my life on Earth, this was about a Heavenly battle taking place in a realm beyond this one, and I knew somehow, I was in the Lord’s army. Here is an excerpt from what I said:

Today I stand in front of you representing 1000s of people like myself who aren’t making a fuss about their sexuality – who are living costly lives of discipleship with their same-sex attractions. I want to implore you today in the sight of Jesus Christ to consider that blessing same-sex relationships will have very negative consequences on people like myself.  

Such a decision not only denies the clear teaching of scripture and the tradition of the Church for thousands of years but it denies the truth of Jesus’ voice in our lives and impairs the vital marker of true evangelism: holiness. If the Church blesses same-sex couples that sends a clear message that holy celibacy as a response to grace and the teaching of scripture is pointless. It says that we are simply wasting our sacrificial celibacy and costly discipleship like the woman who poured the alabaster jar on Jesus’ feet.

People say our time could have been spent on a relationship and yet by saying that romantic love is necessary for the greatest human flourishing, they deny the full humanity of Christ who was himself celibate and our example. Our voices will be lost in the loud noise of activism and agenda. I know all around the world those who are, in great sacrifice to ourselves obeying God. Whilst the intention may not be to delete us, you will inevitably do so. Whilst I do not deny the horrific pain that we LGBTQI people go through, I implore you today before the judgment seat of God to listen to Jesus Christ. His view is what matters, not the loud plurality that are demanding your full and disingenuous affirmation. Be the Church, and do not conform to the pattern of this world.

I feel quite emotionally impacted and moved by this very courageous decision. It has truly been an honour to participate in the Shared Conversations, share my story and to see this result. It has been a personal sacrifice to so openly share, but I did it to glorify the Lord and to benefit those who do not have a voice. I am so very proud of Justin Welby and Church of England and the Bishops who are standing on the Word of God, in the love of God, openly accepting all gay people, but retaining the truth of God’s Image in humanity sexually: male and female in the covenant and sacrament of marriage (not modern romanticism’s de facto marriage which does not involve God). Please pray for them as they will inevitably receive vitriol and violent slander from the world.

Praise God for this. I am all for people defining marriage outside of the church as they see fit, but the Church is the Lord Jesus Christ’s and His alone. His Word and Voice are final, not just our experience. This is an act of solidarity with SSA/Gay people who are celibate and faithful to original call in Christ to be “washed and waiting,” giving their whole selves to Christ’s Lordship. We are a minority within a minority and desperately need real support and care in the Church.

Jesus Christ wants, as it says in Ephesians, “to sanctify her (the bride of Christ the Church), cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a glorious church, without stain or wrinkle or any such blemish, but holy and blameless.” Holiness, obedience, self-surrendering love is his desire. We love you, Lord Jesus and any response less than offering your body up as a living sacrifice is not worthy of your cross, your self-sacrifice on our behalf. You alone are worthy of all of me. Today’s decision glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no greater knowledge in my life than that.

 

God’s gift to a post-truth world: Jesus Christ, the Anti-Sisyphus

Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” -John 18:37-38

The great danger that lurks beneath the surface of reading at the University of Oxford is the temptation to allow human reasoning to exalt itself above truth. The means of truth can become the ends in and of themselves. This year at the University of Oxford I have studied the concept of God through the lens of continental philosophers like Kant or Feuerbach, theologians like Barth and Von Balthasar and in the letters of the Pauline corpus. What is certain across all of our enquiry into the knowledge of God is that his existence is synonymous with the existence of ‘truth’, and necessarily so. If God exists, he is the first cause of all that exists as the maximally greatest being. In other words, if you believe in God, you must believe in truth. If there is no underlying objectivity or first cause, all knowing becomes redundant, an infinite regression.

In a similar spirit to this, we find ourselves accepting a new word into Oxford’s own dictionary and not just that, with a celebratory accolade as the Word of the Year in 2016, ‘post-truth.’ The dictionary describes the adjective this way: “Relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” I will forgive the potential swipe at ‘belief’ or ‘emotion’, inferring that they may be unimportant in establishing what is ‘objectively factual’ or ‘true’ and side step that issue. Post-truth is a word which summates the zeitgeist of where we find ourselves as a general human society. We may actually have become so exhausted with partisan ‘facts’, with reason in a vacuum, section off from the other faculties which deliver truth to us, that we have now become suspicious of any claim to an ultimate reality or truth. I remember myself shouting “there is no such thing as absolute truth”, until I soon realised that this was an absolute truth-claim.

Our culture, vis-à-vis truth, finds itself like the mythological figure of Sisyphus. Albert Camus describe him this way in his treatise on truth, ‘the Myth of Sisyphus’: “Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth.”

We don’t find ourselves in a different place than just over 2,000 years ago when Pilate, faced with the Truth incarnate, said “What is truth?”. The reality is, without God’s own assistance, without His Holy Spirit of Truth, we cannot see truth when it stares us in the face. Jesus’ life shows us that must be transformed from within and born again, to be able to see with new eyes and hear with new ears.

Maybe like Sisyphus, we feel that we have come to the end of constantly searching for the truth in our own way, via our own faculties. Maybe, just maybe, we need help, we need rescue, we need someone else to assist us.  Sitting in the office of a friend and mentor of mine, Reverend Dr. Michael Lloyd, the Principal of Wycliffe Hall, he informally ‘commissioned’ me on my journey into academic theology with these two wise sayings: the prophetic task of the theologian is a constant attack on idolatry because no concept of God can contain Him and 2. Scholarship is a lot like rock climbing, if you are not willing to take your hand off one of the rocks on the wall of certainty, then you cannot lift your hand and grasp one that is higher. Perhaps our culture needs to take its hand off the rock it has clung to of always seeking the atomistic ‘facts’ to grasp one which is higher, to trust something greater and more profound than narrow rationalism.

Both of these words of wisdom from Michael gave me a profound hope as I have been working through the rigors of the Oxford postgraduate programme. They both are profoundly anti-Sisyphean, and reminded me that Jesus Christ is both accessible to and yet mysteriously beyond the grasp of all man’s wisdom and reasoning. He doesn’t require us to fumble aimlessly through a post-truth universe of infinitely changing facts or climb up a mountain only to find ourselves inevitably at its feet again but instead reaches down into our humanity and says, in the midst of our striving to know, “I am.”

Christians, same-sex unions and the Manichean error: why gay [or straight] relationships aren’t all bad and aren’t all good but aren’t the same

aspects_of_male_friendship_2_by_vishstudio

In recent press we have seen a flurry of different voices, including from within the Church of England and along the softer side of the evangelical world such as Tony Campolo and Jen Hatmaker make pronouncements in their support of blessing gay relationships. I remember my own distress when I heard of someone I looked up to at Wheaton College, Julie Rodgers, herself a same-sex attracted, celibate Christian coming out in support of same-sex relationships and gay marriage. This news was like a pang in my chest as culture’s pressures came down on someone whose faith was brave enough to stand with God, and not fall to the huge cultural pressure to affirm same-sex marriage in a culture which has little to no theological patience or understanding.

This could also include to some degree, Alan Chambers Manning who is the ex-president of Exodus International, which transitioned from an ex-gay therapy ministry in the 80s [I was deeply relieved by this] to a parachurch ministry that provided pastoral support for same-sex attracted Christians who agree with the Biblical position (an important distinction many in the media miss). Most of those involved in Exodus in its last days repudiated in the post-Freudian strangeness of ‘ex-gay’ therapies. Chambers closed the ministry stating that it was “the responsibility of the Church” to support same-sex attracted or gay Christians, and not a parachurch ministry. This was an idealist move with some grave cultural impacts, weakening the support-base for Christians like myself. Instead, we find ourselves repeating St Augustine’s cultural error: we fall into the dualism of either hating or affirming our fallen bodies.

I was recently involved in the Shared Conversations, a closed event at the General Synod of the Church of England, invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd Justin Welby. Here I spoke on my views as a representative of Living Out, a UK-based charity for people like myself who are either same-sex attracted and celibate OR who are, by God’s special and careful vocation, in an inter-orientation marriage. As I shared my testimony with three other younger panellists, I was given 7 minutes to share my experience. This was an incredible privilege. I was the only panel member that supported the biblical position on same-sex acts as sinful and our current society’s obsession with gay marriage as a result of the idolatry of romantic love in both modern promulgations: the 1950s conservatism and the 1960s libertinism, which both led to repressive and excessive immoralities. As I shared my story of finding Jesus Christ in amidst our culture’s current conundrum, I said “At the end of the day, what truly matters is not our view as the Church or as a society, what matters is what Jesus Christ is saying to us all.” As I looked across the audience I said from the stage “the lie that we are telling ourselves is that compromising holiness will ensure the growth of church numbers. This is false – embracing those who are sexually faith in their sexuality and raising them up as witnesses to our culture will attract the world. Without holiness, Jesus Christ cannot be seen in us by the world and evangelism is of no value.” As I got down from the stage and spoke with the Archbishop for some 20 minutes, this thought struck me profoundly.

The Church is falling into the dualistic error that most ancient and modernistic cultures make and did make after and in Jesus’ time: the physical creation and the desires of our fallen bodies are either wonderfully and irrevocably good [there is no fall] or the physical creation is terribly bad [we must escape the body to find holiness]. We are making the error that the world makes when it makes the body either supreme or the body subordinate to true relationship with God. We are met today with the proto-gnostic lie that the physical difference of the body doesn’t matter; that the differentiation sexually of both male and female is unimportant in defining the sexual union of marriage. The general ‘no’ from the Christian world to gay marriage does not stem from a desire to hurt or persecute the LGBTQI community, but rather to faithfully represent how God in His Word has ontologically defined marriage as. From an era like the Victorian age where the body and its desires were platonically bad to today’s era where the body’s desires are wonderfully good with no impact from the fall, we meet with the fatal error of either demonising or worshipping gay romance and other fallen expressions of erotic love.

As a same-sex attracted/gay celibate Christian, I don’t see gay romantic relationships as something God is not involved with or God does not appreciate when agape love is present in the friendship bond. I see gay relationships as failing on the other hand to actually sexually image God. At the final judgment, when God separates out those who know Him and love Him from those who do not, I don’t think everything involved in the friendship of a gay union will be lost, but I do believe it will be a separating out of the sexual aspect of the relationship from the friendship aspect for those who are gay and know Jesus. This will be a painful reality much like the rich man who knows Jesus but worships his or her bank account and does not use their wealth to help those without and those poor.

Blessing a same-sex relationship is a difficult conundrum as on the surface it forces us into the Manichean errors above outlined. If we peel the story of scripture back though, what a gay couple really needs, as we all do, is to find ourselves in a new identity altogether. This identity is the fascination of all Christian experience and it is the identity of ‘In Christ’ – to be in Christ doesn’t just mean to float off to some heavenly lala land but rather means to integrate divine holiness with our good humanity, and let the rest be ‘sanctified’ out of us – for me celibacy was the overflow of grace’s work within me. Whilst I never felt ‘called’ to celibacy, I offered my body, with its complex desires, up to God, to let him ‘define’ me, to let all I was be transformed into ‘Christ’, where by surrendering all my desires, I received them back as Jesus wanted me to have them. This didn’t involve losing my same-sex attraction, but it radically shifted the way I saw life in this fallen body.

To offer my body to God like Jesus on the cross is the way all Christians must go, gay or straight. This is as Paul says our honourable sacrifice and for the ‘gay’ person, both the crucifixion of an old identity marker and highest act of worship in a culture that is eros-obsessed. The depth of intimacy and the freedom I have experienced is something I would never trade want to trade for a gay relationship. Such a relationship has none of the goods I couldn’t experience in a close covenant friendship. Furthermore, such a relationship falls short corporeally from imaging God as outlined in Genesis; God’s triune nature as distinct persons, God the Father, God the Son and God, the Holy Spirit yet One God in Love; human beings made as sexually male and female and as distinct sexual fleshly beings for the sake of difference of persona in the marriage. My celibacy is a sign of support for God’s design and glory in humanity sexually and an enactment of the hope of Heaven and its ultimate spiritual friendship. One day, all that is ‘in Christ’ will be whole and none will be given in marriage, but all will be united in Christ’s love in perfect relationship and the spiritual friendship where all will have the love of ‘laying one’s life down for one’s friend’.

I believe ultimately, that whilst a gay relationship is not bad in the Manichean sense, it is not our Lord’s desire for our bodies, falling short of his desired standard. I do not commit the Manichean error, which disrespects the humanity of my gay affirming brothers or sisters. Whilst I understand their practical conundrum, I truly believe celibacy, to employ the Apostle’s language, to be the better option. Whilst salvation is not by heterosexuality or homosexuality but by faith alone in Jesus Christ, if we, as Christians will, commit the Manichean error, we will forever be compromised in our heavenly sanctification and will meet a profound pain in the new age when Jesus does not say “well done good and faithful servant” but rather, would enter to the knowledge that we are least in the Kingdom of Heaven by holding on to our sexuality identity as our ultimate need or ruling Lord for our flourishing here and now. The question we must ask is not can a gay relationship be made holy but rather does a gay relationship reflect God’s image and glory and desire for the sexuality of the human body as shown in his clear and distinguishing design.

The right to live a holy life: the cultural shift and how it is damaging faithful, same-sex attracted Christians.

Old-Bible

As a same-sex attracted or gay Christian, I often find myself in situations where my own rights or voice are discounted, sometimes even demonised. Through my own experience with God and through a transparent reading of the scriptures, I made the decision to live a celibate or life open to God’s grace. Not just that, but the countless, often voiceless, fellow Christians, who live similar lives to me, are suffering greatly and their story is not being told.

The recent article released by the magazine of one of the undergraduate colleges I deeply respect in the States, Calvin College, landed with a particular pang of pain in my heart. The article told the story of a gay couple that had both studied at the college and are ‘happily’ in a homosexual union. What was so hurtful was not their story but that their story was being prized above and beyond the stories of hundreds who are living faithfully and submitting to Christ by a college of Reformed Christian conviction.

In the article Colby, one of the gay ex-students says, “It is often times thought of as a dichotomy — that you can’t be gay and Christian at same time.” Colby said, “God takes precedence in both of our lives … and so trying to reconcile homosexuality and engagement in the homosexual community, which seemed to compromise our beliefs in redemption and in God’s salvation, is something that we’ve struggled with our entire lives.”

The article goes on to say, “he felt the Holy Spirit come upon him: ‘It was] a feeling I can’t explain — I can’t explain that intense peace and reassurance and it was only in the Holy Spirit that I felt it. It was just intoxicating and fulfilling and I knew that I was not in the wrong; I was just simply trying to show who I am.’”

The issue with Colby’s statement here is that you cannot, according to a Reformed interpretation of scripture, be an unrepentant, homosexually active Christian. God simply does not take precedence and any claimed religious experience of the Holy Spirit that does not confirm scripture is not the Holy Spirit. A fundament of basic evangelical reformed theology is that scripture is the authority above any other voice.

The scriptures are clearly not for same-sex sexual activity and in every place that homosexual activity is mentioned, it is seen negatively. As Christians, we cannot form our beliefs merely based on experience, no matter how important it is. We must also base it off Jesus’ and the Apostles’ teaching first and foremost.

For those of us who have, through our relationship with the Holy Spirit, given our sexuality to God, you have to understand the way stories like Colby’s are deeply grieving and disappointing. It feels like losing a brother, a part of your body has been torn off. Their company and courage is lost, the brightness of their uncompromised devotion to Christ fades. An on-fire, holy life full of the sacrifice of worship and the deep agape love of God, consecrated to the only Lord who is worthy, Jesus, is lost.

Wedged between the two loud voices many suffer. Between the hyper-conservatives who have no idea what it is like to be same-sex attracted or gay and the liberal, post-Christians who just want us not to exist and who are often threatened by our choice to give up our romantic lives for Christ, people like myself, often deeply passionate Christians, are disenfranchised, held at a distance and completely disregarded in the conversation.

As I look to the future, things often look grim for people like myself. The Church is rapidly falling to people-pleasing theology, ignoring the teaching of scripture and less and less support is there for people like myself in the Christian community, not to mention the hostility and complete lack of recognition for our struggle and alienation in the secular world.

In politics, in the Church, around the globe, it’s as if we don’t exist but there are thousands and thousands of us. At a recent conference, I met some of the most intelligent, articulate and profound celibate gay Christians I’ve ever met, who all have the courage to live out holy lives btu had been in hiding, quietly struggling to find social oxygen in the Church and suffering in the world where they are completely misunderstood and seen as abject.

The landscape needs to change but for this to happen, two things remain: 1. The need for evangelical churches to consolidate their position and take the persecution that we, same-sex attracted people who remain faithful to biblical and Holy Spirit-inspired teaching on sexuality, with us and stop dodging it and fearing media back-lash. 2. The need for a healthy respect to exist between those gay people who disagree and take different positions, working together to diffuse prejudice and ignorance and ensuring the protection of each other’s rights to self-determination when it comes to the question of sexuality.

Finally, I worry as the implications of the legalisation of same-sex marriage fully hit the ground, that one day, people like myself will become the Roman martyrs in the colloseums of the liberal ruling class. We need support but where is it? Almost no where. Where are the brothers and sisters standing with us? Few and far between. Where is the teaching out of the pulpit that celebrates us and mentions celibacy? Almost no where. Christian, I’m not hiding, nor should you.

The Lost Meaning of the Word ‘Faith’

Jesus_nailed_to_cross-793004

Sitting in an Oxford café with a new friend and member of my discipleship group I was struck by a profound revelation of what faith really means. As I took her through the early chapters of Genesis, our focus was on why there needed to be a fall of man. It struck me that the Fall’s principle effect on us human beings was our lack of capacity to really ‘trust’ God or anyone else for that matter.

This lack of capacity to really trust has put into action and brought about the most terrible injustices and modern horrors we still remember today. As I explained how wanting to be like God in His knowledge represented by the trees in the Garden of Eden, the figure of Abraham came visibly to my mind. The Holy Spirit whispered to me “Abraham’s faith is more than you think it is.”

One of the most important passages in the whole Bible when it comes to the doctrine of salvation is found in the account of Abraham. Abraham had extraordinary faith – a faith which brought the whole salvation of the world and all those God had chosen for relationship with Himself before the foundation of the world in Jesus Christ.

“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son.” Hebrews 11:6

God provided a male sheep as a prefiguration of His giving of Jesus, the Lamb like Abraham gave His own Son. Here we saw faith [‘aman] between God and man expressed beautifully: Abraham gave the fullness of who He was and God echoed this thousands of years later in giving His Son, Jesus Christ.

The word ‘faith’ in Hebrew is the word ‘aman,’ which had a specific meaning within Abraham’s context where nomadic tent living was the norm and life was dependent on the success of raising livestock.

The important factor when placing your tent stakes in the ground was how firm the ground was and yet soft enough to receive the stake when hammering. If you drive in soft ground, the tension on the rope will pull the stake right out, but in high winds you need to make sure the stakes are in firm ground that will hold during the high winds. The ideal ground would require a hammer to beat the stake in. In ground like this the stake will remain secure in its position even in a strong wind. Let us now look at a passage of Scripture that uses this “concept”.

The Prophet Isaiah reflected the meaning of ‘aman’ in His prophecy about the new priesthood of the House of David that was coming, a prophecy we can see clearly represents Jesus Christ Himself and His death on the Cross:

Isaiah 22: I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. 23 I will drive him like a peg into a firm place [aman], he will be a seat of honor for the house of his father.  24 And they will hang on him the whole honor of his father’s house, the offspring and issue, every small vessel, from the cups to all the flagons [representing priestly office of covering sin]. 25 In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, the peg that was fastened in a secure place will give way, and it will be cut down and fall, and the load that was on it will be cut off, for the Lord has spoken [the atonement of our sin on the Cross].”

Here we have the stake (peg) being driven into a “firm” place. The Hebrew word translated as “firm” here is the verb “aman” which literally means “to be firm or sure”. According to Strong’s lexicon ‘aman means to “to support, confirm, be faithful, uphold, or nourish,” coming directly from the context of tent-securing. It is also prophetically fascinating the Paul the Apostle was a tent-maker and the preacher of justification by faith [‘aman). I wonder if this ever gave him profound insight into faith.

When we think of faith we often think of someone who is intellectually convinced or has a profound intimate relationship with God that is highly affective. These aren’t necessarily bad qualities to have in your relationship with God but they aren’t the saving faith that Abraham has and we therefore are to have in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Rather, we are meant to ‘aman God, even when the high winds of life come and blow and batter our lives, we trust, hold firm, support, nourish the Word in us and place of the Spirit in our lives and ultimate, to be faithful to God in all we do.

Often we fall into a broken definition of saving faith as just some mere assent to God and His existence or the historicity of the Resurrection or some powerful personal experience of God’s presence. However, faith is firm trust in the God who is living and found in Jesus Christ when perhaps we aren’t always sure of every factor in our lives. Faith is practical and relational; it is about building the ‘tent of our lives’: faith builds community, is restrained from criticism and negativity, faith travels, moves, is generous to strangers, sets down, brings security, requires submission and obedience, steadfastness. Faith isn’t perfect but a wrestle with God as we learn from Abraham’s progeny, Jacob. Faith supports and builds eternal friendships with the Persons of the Trinity and others. It is a kind of firm trust you can count on to some degree. Faith is a quality without which, as it says in the book of Hebrews, “it is impossible to please God.” Faith is about giving the fullness of yourself to God, yielding, dying, giving up all to Him. Abraham offered Isaac up to God and God provided the true Lamb, the One whose faith would bring the salvation of His descendents who have that very seed of faith that Isaac represented.

We see Jesus, our Saviour displaying the most profound faith we have ever seen: the very faith that characterises the Trinity and overcomes death as He goes up onto the cross in all the frailty and weakness of human flesh and yet never sinning. As the wind of suffering beat against the ‘tent of Jesus’ body, He was ‘pegged’ to the wooden cross beams, a prophetic reminder of the word ‘aman’, the secure peg that would give weight under the sin of humanity, fulfilling Isaiah 22.

Jesus held firm to God’s will to die for the sins of the world. In response to Abraham’s ‘aman’ and all those after him, Jesus died and fulfilled the Father’s covenant with Abraham made by faith! This is the kind of faith God has put in us as disciples: a most precious seed, a faith that overcomes the storms of this life. God wants more than just assent to His grace and a doctrinal belief in being ‘saved’ a la catechism classes, He wants steadfast obedience and faithful love of Him and others and by it we are truly saved from a world that lives by the exact opposite. That cannot be taught in a seminary, classroom but only in the real grit of life.

“You are my Strength and Song” – Musical worship and discipleship

worship-600x400

Today’s Church and Christian environment is full of the sound of songs, praise music and mass-mediated musical worship. One of the truths I have been meditating on recently is the importance of turning our songs as believers into action that effects the world and communicates Christ: From little actions of love towards others that are hidden to moments of intimacy with God that transform your day and spur you on and out of selfishness, self-centredness and the death of the flesh.

As someone passionate about the song of our hearts to God as one of the most vital vectors of worship to our Lord and an opening door or ladder to His Presence, Power and Heavenly glory and the central way to host His Manifest Presence, I think we can experience an excess of singing that flattens the reality of our walk with God. Often, we manufacture experiences that make us feel good, instead of a real encounter with the Living God in the power of His Holiness where we experience and receive the downpayment of our atonement and taste Heaven, which thanks to Jesus’ work on the Cross is readily available to us!

In the Old Testament, God says to his people Israel “Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. 24“But let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

In the context of this verse, we see Israel is stuck in roll repeat musical worship and a wooden, unreal relationship with God, hiding unfaithfulness to God behind half-hearted worship and sacrifice. Their worship has lost the truth that undergirds it and their actions are not lining up with the musical worship they express. What God most desires is a life of right relationship before Him and justice and right relationship with neighbour. As Christians, we are called to have our hearts poured into by God and in turn, to pour our hearts out towards others in acts of generosity and self-sacrifice. We must make sure that our songs and our glory-filled worship isn’t a way to escape the world and our problems but a way to enjoy God, receive inner healing and sanctification and to be equipped and readied to love our neighbour in the world. Our encounters with God should drive us closer to living righteously in the incarnational grit of day-to-day life at the same time as exposing us to His Heavenly glory that transforms and nourishes us.

In Ephesians 5 Paul says “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.”

Consuming Jesus’ presence and being filled with the Holy Spirit is essential for our spiritual health and shalom peace – I am a Presence-of-God addict and in a world of broken relationships, we really need this. In moments of profound worship we are deeply edified in love for God and each other, however if our songs become purely about us and our needs and never equipping for service and good works for the Lord, and being turned out towards others, our song becomes a clanging cymbal, an act of individualised consummation and private, powerless religion. As Christians we must learn the paradoxical art of emptying ourselves and at the same time as being filled to overflowing. If our worship does not produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit, it is doubtful that He was really manifesting Himself to us in our worship. The coming of Heaven is only partially actualised when God is enthroned in the praises of His people, it must be accompanied by the real expression of agape love, not just affection and fraternity.

Heaven on Earth looks like Jesus’ whole ministry: from casting out demonic darkness, destroying the works of darkness and evil, healing the sick, teaching and exhorting, intercession, service, public witness, but most importantly worship of God by carrying our individually-assigned cross as bond-servants. Let’s continually sing our heart out to the Lord and be filled to overflowing by the Holy Spirit, but let’s never forget to pour out our heart in love to God and others in all the ways Jesus did. A song without true grace and righteousness is null and void. I am preaching to myself.

Marriage, the Evangelical Accolade: Celebrating the Coming Marriage of Heaven and Earth 

john-peter-running-to-the-tomb

I think one of the things that I often struggle with in the evangelical church is a sore lack of identification with brothers and sisters that are same-sex attracted, celibate or somehow not living in the way of the predominant norm. When I look around in the Western Evangelical Church, the most celebrated thing other than the death and resurrection of our Lord is marriage and yet, in Jesus’ own ministry and the Apostles’ ministries, earthly marriage isn’t really the centre of their teaching in any direct sense. Marriage is seen as important but not to the extent that it is many of our churches today. What people don’t realise is that this over-emphasis on marriage means those who are being faithful to Christ in a celibate state are made to feel less than their married brothers and sisters. We have to correct this.

In another sense, marriage in evangelical churches also acts as a kind of “rite of initiation.” Once you are married, you are treated in some way as if you have attained a virtue or a social marker that will attract attention: you have attained one of the essential markers of success in life. You will often be prospered when you’re in ministry or you will receive some kind of bonus at work. This celebration of marriage is not bad in and of itself but an over-emphasis means that a) we don’t celebrate people in and of themselves, just their status as spouse or parent b) we are celebrating our own love of eros and family above the place of adoration of Christ in the person’s life c) those who are not married in the Church are celebrated less or never receive these kinds of extravagant displays of support, often when they desperately need them in such an Eros-obsessed culture. Many of those in alternative situations fall away and never receive a place in the preaching or ministry platform and so the Church doesn’t adapt socially to new challenges such as the LGBTQI movement, feminism or other social movements.

What us evangelicals fail to understand is that celibacy is a sign and witness to the coming relational perfection of Heaven – it is a state of faith-filled patience pointing to the wedding of the Lamb: the consummation of being in Heaven with God for eternity. This is the marriage we celebrate in all things, earthly marriage and celibacy, alike. Celibacy is hugely glorifying to God and shows a trust in the realest sense of God’s promise of the wedding to come in eternity: the wedding banquet of the Lamb. In the same chapter of Matthew Jesus teaches that “the kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.” Jesus says to a marriage-obsessed Jewish culture: “at the Resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” These words were shocking for religious communities then as much as now.

I would like to postulate that there is a hidden “over-realised eschatology” – the idea that heaven has fully come in earthly marriage. This goes unnamed and is actually the result of a hidden worship of erotic love in our culture. Erotic love is made ultimate just like in Israel with Ashtoreth and Baal, the gods who were most worshipped when cultures put erotic love above agapaic love bringing about the wrath of God – God’s distinct absence. In Scripture, this is a serious offense and the product was hidden sexual immorality, other sins and death. When people say things like “I will love you forever,” “Our love is eternal” or “I am addicted to you”: any of these ultimate sayings in marriage they have to be very careful. Erotic love is not eternal but rather is a momentary foretaste of a far bigger reality that is eternal: the marriage of Christ and His Bride, the Church. Paul and John and ultimately Jesus’ celibacy was a sign to us of their deep faith in God and trust in the final consummation of Heaven that is coming.

When we look at modern objections to or twisting of the Christian Gospel, one of the first attacks we see is on the notion that celibacy is good. Jesus must be married such as in the Da Vinci Code or in recent falsified rumours of Jesus being married to Mary Magdalene. In Mormonism, earthly marriage and procreation will be a sign of your heavenly authority. I don’t even need to start with secular culture’s worship of erotic love. Another development in recent years is the gay rights movement’s particular focus on marriage. We seem to forget that as much as the secular world likes to deny it, the Church in the West sets the moral example to our culture. Deep down, my friends in the gay rights movement deeply value marriage because they worship marriage in a very similar way to how much of the Church does – they see it as ultimate and Eros love as the definitive factor of success. For this reason it is such a heated issue. What we really fail to see is the hope of Heaven – we must stop worshipping earthly finitudes and start looking to the coming Kingdom of Heaven on the New Earth and New Heavens – whether or not you marry isn’t very important in this greater vision. What matters ultimately is if you know God in Christ.

Concretely, Christians need to celebrate our celibate brothers and sisters – we need to have parties for them, love them, invite them over and not look at them with sadness or as if they are deprived or cursed but rather affirm and celebrate them. We must give them the platform in ministries and in preaching. Often the celibate Christian is seen as the marker of dead traditionalism: a dried up old eunuch, a stump. The celibate monk or reverend produces no life but we don’t realise that the true progenation of life is found in the preaching of the Gospel – we are spiritual seed bearers. The physical aspect of bearing children is only a shadow of the spiritual reality of what we are becoming in Christ.

I remember when leading a small group at my church in Sydney, my closest friend a few weeks before his wedding was filled with sadness. He pulled the car over and seemed silent, troubled. I asked him what was wrong and he broke out – “I’m just so grieved that you’ll never get to experience the joy of what I am about to experience – it’s so sad.” He looked at me as if this was the best thing there was to experience. I turned around to him and said “I get better – Heaven.” He was perplexed and shocked and realised the error – he had made romantic love ultimate, not the love of God.

From this mistake my friend made, I look the scripture in Revelation that presents another vision: “These are the ones who have not been defiled with women, for they have kept themselves chaste. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These have been purchased from among men as first fruits to God and to the Lamb.”

And then the promise in the book of Isaiah: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, And choose what pleases Me, And hold fast My covenant, to them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial, And a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.”

Here we see the prophecy in Isaiah fulfilled in Revelation. The Lord has given a name, a progeny to those who remained faithful and chaste. He did this in Jesus Christ Himself who is the first fruits of all creation and now us. Those who remain celibate, same-sex attracted or otherwise are not just add-on extras; they are a vital way of imaging the faithfulness of Christ, the very first fruits of salvation. They image our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in their self-denial and agape love for the Lord to lay down such a central desire.

I want to send this out as an encouragement to do the will of God in your life, celibate or married, whatever your state may be. Your relationship status is not your final identity but only Jesus Christ alone. Your final destiny is not dried up celibacy or marriage but earthly witness to the Heaven that is coming. Eros love is not essential or ultimate, only God who is agape love.

Flowers and graveyards

Humans are like grass

Or flowers

Faces full of light

Stones standing

Pillars of salt

Prey to things

Deeper than the heart

I was walking in the graveyards

Of the living

Smelling buds, tasting colours

Hoping to clench

Their scent and sweet

Paragon of hope.

Lillac and deeper purple still.

The bird called them home again.

These flowers in the graveyard

Of beating

In the heart.

And wither.

Today, I was touched by the way in which blessing breaks your spirit in a good way. The weight of glory is crushing. God blesses us so much as his sons that the mere gift of existence becomes blatently apparent and there is not a word of praise that is sufficient to return glory. Instead, we are broken, utterly humbled. To be blessed of God is to be undone by and under the weight of His Power, Might and Glory…

1 Peter 5 5:6 Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time