(Editor’s note: This article is a combination of an article written for the WordAlone Network and a letter to WordAlone from a woman. There are two typefaces to distinguish the two. The first paragraph is the article typeface and is in bold, darker type. The second typeface is from the letter.)
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means; ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners,’” (Matt. 9:12)In His WordAlone; Lord, Keep Us Steadfast!
I have been supporting Lutheran CORE ever since going to my synod assembly two years ago and being devastated, totally devastated, by what was passed as far as the resolutions for ordination of persons who are in committed same-sex unions, and blessings for same-sex unions, and as to how manipulated the whole assembly was by the GLBT community and leadership.
The first booth as you entered this Evangelical Lutheran Church in America synod assembly usually has been Lutherans Concerned, which describes itself as a Christian ministry for all sexual orientations and all gender identities. They have been allowed to hand out emotionally charged literature shortly before votes. Assembly leadership has allowed unlimited answer time to questions by Lutherans Concerned and has skillfully manipulated procedural votes to their view.
Personally, I was cradle rostered, baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran church and am probably the rare woman who has remained in the ELCA and who struggles with having left a 13-year relationship with another woman, because the Lord led me to His truth. Not a distortion of Scripture, but the "sanctify them in truth, my word is truth" Gospel that changes lives. That truth is being lost in the ELCA and the true Gospel is shoved aside for cheap grace, the kind that was the meeting’s slogan and even quoted misleadingly at the assembly, “God’s Amazing Grace!” Grace is amazing, but there's more to the story.
The woman caught in adultery was used as an example at the synod assembly, and all they said was, "Neither do I condemn you." Period. End of statement? No, "Go and sin no more,” were Jesus’ parting words to her.
And to backtrack slightly, to Matthew 8:2—“A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.’ Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man, ‘I am willing, he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately he was cured of his leprosy.”
Lepers were considered unclean. For Jesus to actually reach out and touch a leper would make Him ceremonially unclean. Yet Jesus did reach out. Jesus did touch. The leper was healed.
And what do we know of the leper? He was out of touch with his community because he was “unclean,” and therefore not allowed to associate with those that were not lepers. Yet, he came. He knelt before Jesus. He acknowledged that Jesus could indeed heal him. This meant he broke social taboos by coming this close to Jesus. He humbled himself by kneeling and thus acknowledging Jesus’ position, “Lord.”
And he had faith in Jesus. Jesus acknowledged that he came for the sick.
But, not just the physically sick, as the leper was. Read on. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Sacrifice applied to atonement for sins, not physical healing. “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus came for those caught in sin.
What was his reaction to sin? He died on the cross so that whosoever believes in Him shall not die but have everlasting life. He died so that we could have relationship with Him. Grace. Not grace to keep on sinning, but grace to know we are forgiven and can walk in right relationship with Him through his sacrifice—once for all.
“What then shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?!” as Paul asked in Roman 6:1.
Those that Jesus met that were in sin? He forgave and then admonished them to go and sin no more.
His first words of His ministry were, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Matt. 4:17).
So were does all this lead?
To a realization that sin is not the normal, acceptable behavior for persons calling themselves Christians. Sin is spoken of in the Bible and Jesus did “not come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them,” (Matt 5:1). He came to people who were broken and knew that they needed a Savior. He came as the ultimate sacrifice for those who come to Him.
How are we to come? Seeking Him. Having faith—that “if you will” outlook—and humbling ourselves, kneeling before Him, waiting for His will to be acted out in our lives. God looks at the heart. Is it truly repentant? Is there even a small mustard seed of faith? Then He will reach out and touch. He will heal. He will forgive, and He will ask that we go and sin no more. But if we do, we have an advocate, Jesus Christ Himself, who sits at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. (Paraphrased from 1 John 2:1).
Back in 1985 my first lover of nearly two years left me for a coworker and I was left totally broken. I went to my pastor for help and he led me to Exodus International, having got a flier from them the very day I went to him for counsel! Exodus is a nonprofit, interdenominational Christian organization promoting the message of freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ, according to their Web site. I remained with Exodus from around 1985-1991 or ’92, going to their national conventions and even starting my own outreach called Liberty Ministry, which was listed as an affiliate of Exodus. I spoke on local Christian radio and at one of the larger churches in our town, sharing my testimony and what Exodus was about.
Well, a year or more after I began counseling I met another woman I knew I shouldn't counsel, due to my attraction to her, but others felt I was strong enough, and there was no one else to talk to her. (Speak of being deceived, God can always put other people in people's lives or talk to them Himself. I have since learned I am not the end all.) So I started talking to her and after fighting my feelings for a year, we ended up in a relationship that lasted for more than13 years.
So fast forward to today’s church.
Are we a hospital for those who desire healing? Do we bring ourselves to the one who heals not physically only, but spiritually? Do we confess, repent and turn to Him from our sins? Or do we come denying, prideful and self sufficient, self righteous. We don’t need any help; we’re doing pretty well on our own, thank you very much. Church is merely a social group, a feel-good gathering, where all try to be as politically correct as the outside world.
Consider a hospital where people deny they are ill. Others come to visit and can see very well a person is ill, but don’t mention a word of it, don’t make any attempt to offer healing words or treatments, but simply chit chat as a person lies in bed dying. Absurd, you say? Yes. Absurd. Yet, churches that do not address sin are doing just that. For a person who is not saved, is “dead in their trespasses and sins” according to Ephesians 2:1, and if we who claim to be “saved’ merely tolerate, ignore or perhaps promote sins in the church, we are ignoring that person’s best welfare.
Hospitals work because people who are ill acknowledge their illness, often after a diagnosis by their doctors, they come seeking treatment. They are given the best known care by doctors, with love and support of family and friends.
Not all people choose to seek out answers. Illnesses don’t get diagnosed. Treatments and cures cannot be offered. This is a person's choice. Those that love the person can see and encourage them as best possible, but their efforts are often in vain if no treatment is consented to.
Imagine that person in a hospital. He would not be in long before the hospital said, “Out! You are wasting our bed and our time. You do not wish to acknowledge that you are sick, you are not wishing treatment, and this bed is needed by someone who is seeking help. You are a discouragement to those who are battling their illnesses in this hospital. Go home until you decide to be part of your cure.”
So here is a church. Here are people who profess to know Christ. Who profess to be His followers. Hopefully they have acknowledged their sin, their need for a Savior and have repented of their sins, and are seeking Jesus daily to walk in that faith. Along comes someone who is in obvious known sin and wants to fellowship. They think that this is a friendly enough congregation and can “feel the love and welcome of the church members.”
Yet, no mention is made of the fact that, perhaps they are living together outside of marriage, they are addicted to drugs, or alcohol, or they are in a same-sex relationship. And in any or all of these situations, or numerous other obvious areas of sin, they have no desire to change. In fact, they may see absolutely nothing wrong with their behaviors, they may have even mistakenly accepted their behaviors as their identities, so who are you to judge?
We are the church. We are called to be Christ’s body to the world. This is a serious call. If we do not judge sin within our fellowship, then sin will take over our fellowship. “A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.” In 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses a church where one of the members was living with his stepmother in a sexual relationship. No one cared to do anything about it.
Paul’s advice? Have a meeting and send the concerned parties out of the church, so that maybe they would wake up to their sin, repent and come back in honest fellowship.
When we are called to “judge not lest ye be judged” in Matthew 7, Jesus is speaking in the same paragraph where he says, “first take the log out of your own eye, then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” We are not to have judgmental, critical spirits. We are, however to take the logs out of our own eyes—deal with our own sins—and then we can help to take specks, sins, out of our brothers’ eyes. It doesn’t tell us not to deal with sin. It tells us not to be hypocritical in our dealings.
In 2005, my mom passed suddenly a month after her diagnosis of cancer. I had lost my dad 18 years earlier to a heart attack. So I found myself alone, states away from my current residence, back in my childhood home, turning 50 a few weeks after my mom’s death, saying, “Lord, I’ve lived the first half of this life mainly for me. I want to rededicate the second half for you.”
He was gentle with me as I still thought I could serve Him and be with my partner. She was, after all, the woman I loved and had planned to spend the rest of my life with. But He kept talking to me about it, until finally I said, “I’ll try.”
God has a sense of humor, because even though I said I would try, I basically was not confronting the painful issue. So still not having made that relationship break with my partner, I went overseas to Thailand on a ministry outreach in 2006 and out of six women from my town, who were ministering at Tamar Ministry in Pattaya, my roommate happened to be a former lesbian, whom God had led out of the life!!! What were the odds that I would go around the world and He wouldn't let go of me! Well, that's when I decided, ok, ok, ok. I get it. I don't like it. I don't want to. But I get it!
That small outreach group of women in Thailand heard my story, didn’t judge, but didn’t condone and by their speaking the truth in love to me and by directing me to a Christian counselor, I have been able to walk this path of obedience He led me back on. There have been numerous prayers and supporters along the way as I have sought to be open and accountable. I lean on God and them, and I thank God for them all!
A church is to be a place of love, of holiness and of healing—as much as is possible by relying on God's Holy Spirit at work. We cannot place stumbling blocks in our brothers’ or sisters’ lives by passively approving what the Bible calls sin. Others struggling with that sin, who are trying to walk in a newly learned walk of obedience, will be seeing that approval as acceptance of that sin, and be severely tempted to go back into whatever sin they are struggling with.
Jesus came as the great Physician. We still need to bring ourselves humbly, repentantly before Him, as well as bringing those we know to Him. Ours is not a solo walk. Ours is a fellowship walk. A walk in the light. Darkness has no fellowship with the light, except to be exposed by the light.
Let that exposure be done. Let it be done in love, and let it be done with our hands of love reaching out to support the brethren every step of our walk together. For God is calling a holy bride, the church, unto Himself. We need to keep the oil in each other's lamps until His return.
What kind of hospital is this church? What kind of patients do we have? Who are the staff and support members for those in need? Let us be a hospital where even those who do not realize they have a terminal illness come to realize their need for the Savior and for repentance. Let us be a hospital where those who have acknowledged their “illness” can find the love and support to walk through the healing, the sanctifying, if you will.
Grace without sanctification is merely license, and that is what people who are deceived think they want. They need to hear there is a way out. The church needs to work on getting that word out. Because, as you have seen in my own story, former strugglers, helping strugglers carry a great potential for falling. We need others in the church to reach out with love. And truth.
Let us be a hospital that works. Where lives are changed. Where the true gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and believed from pulpit to pew, “Sanctify them in truth, My Word is truth,” (John 17:17).
Hurting people need the truth that comes as medicine to their souls. Not always easy, often painful and results vary, but their paths have changed to the right direction, and that is what He asks. His Holy Spirit can then work!