As I head into the second post examining the implications of 1 Corinthians 5 on how Christians who disagree with each other on the issue of homosexuality should treat one another I want to make one thing abundantly clear: I do not claim to have “the answer” to the question at hand. I do not claim the kind of authority that would allow me to even attempt such a thing, but as a follower of Christ I am sharing my ideas with other believers in the hope that we will continue to wrestle with this passage. I think that one of the greatest dangers in approaching a passage like this is to blithely assume you know what it means, and in that confidence dismiss it. This happens on all sides of the debate, with people either “explaining it away” on the one hand, or assuming they know what it means on the other hand so that they don’t have to think about the further implications because to them it is just about “that one thing.”
It is our natural human tendency to want nicely packaged resolution to things. It makes life much more convenient if we have the answer and then put it to mind, but I believe that part of “meditating on scripture day and night” is leaving space to continue to learn and grow as I learn new things from a passage throughout my life. In keeping my mind open and continuing to wrestle I am not waffling so that I never have to make a choice on things, rather I am staying open to what the Spirit is showing me today, that I did not catch the last time I looked at this.
So the following is not so much an answer to the “Question of Corinthians” but rather a set of questions that the Spirit has been using to challenge me as I wrestle with this passage. I hope that you will gain benefit from it as well.
1. The Question of Consistency
Several of the people who commented on the first half of this post noted that Christians have tended to focus on the fact that the passage does not just focus on the issue of sexual immorality, but also lists idolatry, greed, drunkenness, and swindlers as those we should not eat with. The issue of greed came up in particular, with people debating what constitutes a person being greedy, and several people noting that much of the world would consider our Western lifestyles horribly greedy. Why I have never heard a sermon warning me not to eat with greedy people? What about Slanderers? I don’t think I have even heard a definition of the word in a sermon, let alone exposition on what it means to avoid them. If sexual immorality is so clear, why are these other issues treated so differently? Even within the wide definition of sexual immorality there is a huge gap what Christians agree on. Why do we treat divorce and remarriage so differently from homosexuality? Does that mean we loosen our views on homosexuality or tighten them on other issues? What would it look like if we did?
2. The Question of Discernment
What role does discernment of the individual case as hand should go into how I apply this scripture? It seems as Jesus confronted the Pharisees one of his frequent critiques was that the applied rules without understanding the point behind them, and ended up missing the point. What is the point of Paul’s pronouncement here? Since this is in response to a particular case, when does it apply and when does it not? Is there a difference between approving of homosexuality and bragging about incest. It is interesting to me that individual in question was using Scripture to back up his actions? Did he sincerely believe what he was doing was okay? Does that make a difference? How far does one have to go before the church should put them out? If someone things rated R movies are okay, and another doesn’t do we put them out too? Is the point of church discipline the restoration of the brother or maintaining God and the Church’s holiness?
These questions are ones that i have particularly grappled with, and as I have tried to discern a way forward have come to the following: the heart of the person involved is a key question. I have had friends who when coming to this issue have basically gone “this is so hard, I am going to change my beliefs so I can get what I want.” The interesting thing about this is that while they often protest they are following God still, their attitude is reflected on other issues. I remember telling one friend I talked with “I understand people disagree on the issue of homosexuality, but you are sleeping with multiple partners, some of who are married! I think you are making excuses at this point!” On the other hand I look at friends of mine like Justin Lee (who is featured on the DVD) who even as their views on homosexuality have changed have sacrificed greatly to uphold the Christian beliefs of chastity, faithfulness and sexual purity. Although I still disagree with many things with Justin, having got to know him and his heart to follow Christ I feel confident continuing to work and minister with him. I certainly would have no compunction about eating a meal with him. With my other friend while I have not cut him out of my life, the difference in heart has led to alot of strain on our friendship as my refusal to approve of his actions has caused him to reject me.
The other thing that really sticks with me as I wrestle with this passage is that if the purpose of excommunication is to bring a brother to repentance, why I have I never seen it have that result in my many friends who have been thrown out of the church? What I have seen instead is that those who are hard hearted just leave, and those who still care about God find other churches that agree with them, or stay on the outskirts of the church. They want to be part of the body but will not compromise their integrity of belief simply to be let back into community. Are they the same as the example in Corinthians? Should they be handled the same way? Does church discipline work different when you have millions of believers in a city instead of a handful?
3. The Question of Assumptions
One of the things that struck me most when I read the comments on the last post is how people often start at a totally different place than me. I was particularly intrigued by the one poster who immediately linked “eating together” with the Lord’s Table. This is not a connection I would ever have made on my own, and do not know that I agree with it yet…but I started to ask why they made that connection, and why it never occurred to me. I am guessing that it has a lot to do with the differences in the denominations in which we circulate. I tend to come from a denomination that does not put huge emphasis on communion (as we call it) though we practice it. But when I mentioned this to a friend who grew up in a church where the Eucharist (a term I never even heard growing up) is central to church life they immediately saw a connection there.
In another comment someone talked about reading Paul versus reading Jesus, and immediately my conservative evangelical side kicked in and went “that’s not a valid point..all Scripture is God breathed…” often these discussions bog down because we are not really arguing about homosexuality or whatever else, we are arguing about principles of interpretation. So what assumptions am I bringing to the text that blind me to what the Spirit is telling me? How has my context shaped me to hear and how has it shaped me to overlook important things? What are the read divides? What are the valid critiques that those who disagree with me see clearly that I am likely to ignore?
Like I said, I do not have the final answer to all of these questions. As I encounter more and more people who disagree with me on this issue I am trying to listen to the Spirit and discern on how I should interact with each of them. I continue to ask what is helpful to them, to the church, and what Christ wants to do in this situation. I have had those I have had to set boundaries on. There are others that I embrace as brothers and sisters in Christ and do not apologize for doing so. But I do not want dismiss this passage. I believe God is alive and speaking through Scripture and so I continue to wrestle with this passage but alone and with other believers as I continue to follow Christ. Thank you all for being a small part of that and I look forward to continuing to wrestle with you.