On the One Hand…
In 2005, Pastor Chuck Smith, Jr., son of the Calvary Chapel movement’s founder Chuck Smith, said of “gay Christians,”
… the easy answer… implies that homosexuality is morally wrong. I’m still looking at it. On the one hand, I’m up against biblical passages [condemning homosexuality] that I need to investigate more thoroughly. On the other hand, I know many practicing homosexuals. I know two young men who’ve been monogamous partners for seven years. They’ve adopted a son who is thriving. They’re good dads, they’re good people, they have asked Jesus into their hearts and seek to live Christian lives.
Smith was “still looking at” the moral implications of homosexuality. He was “up against biblical passages” that he considered “on the one hand,” while considering his personal experience with practicing homosexuals “on the other hand.”
Within five years of making these remarks, Smith began publicly standing as a “straight ally” for non-celibate homosexual Christians.
Where Should Lines Be Drawn?
Brian McLaren, a leading figure in the emerging church movement and recognized by Time Magazine as one of the 25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America, was formerly confused about the legitimacy of homosexual relationships. He said,
Frankly, many of us [emerging church leaders] don’t know what we should think about homosexuality…. [If] we think that there may actually be a legitimate context for some homosexual relationships, we know that the biblical arguments are nuanced and multilayered… we aren’t sure if or where lines are to be drawn….
McLaren couldn’t figure out where “lines [were] to be drawn,” despite having the “biblical arguments” right in front of him. Eventually, after weighing the Bible against potential “legitimate context[s] for some homosexual relationships,” McLaren, too, came down on the side of same-sex marriage and non-celibate homosexual Christians.
Now here comes Hillsong.
Merging Biblical Truth with a Changing World
Australia-based megachurch Hillsong has twelve global campuses, including those in Los Angeles and New York City, and brings you the 2014 GMA lifetime achievement award-winning praise and worship music that you love, with songs like “Mighty to Save” and “Shout to the Lord.” Hillsong Church and Pastor Brian Houston have an immense influence on global Christian culture today.
In June 2014, Hillsong NYC campus Pastor Carl Lentz told CNN,
We have a lot of gay men and women in our church and I pray we always do…. It’s not our place to tell anyone how they should live, it’s – that’s their journey.
Lentz didn’t feel that he should take a public stance on gay marriage because “I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote where Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people.” Pastor Lentz should know better than to try to prove something by lack of evidence; nevertheless, his comments didn’t cause too much of a stir.
But last week, Pastor Houston held a press conference alongside Pastor Lentz that brought the matter into full light. Couched in his concern for “the church to stay relevant,” Pastor Houston said in part,
Many mainstream churches have held what… they would believe is the long-established view on what the Bible says on the subject of homosexuality. But the world’s changed around and about them. On the subject I always feel like there’s three things: there’s the world we live in, there’s the weight we live with, and there’s the Word we live by.
Like Lentz before him, Pastor Houston would not give a definitive stance on homosexuality, and exactly where Smith and McLaren were at one time, Pastor Houston is currently struggling to balance “the world” with the one hand, and “the Word” on the other.
But what about the written statement Pastor Houston issued a few days later to clarify his position? Following a firestorm of criticism, he said,
“Nowhere in my answer did I diminish biblical truth or suggest that I or Hillsong Church supported gay marriage…. My personal view on the subject of homosexuality would line up with most traditionally held Christian views. I believe the writings of Paul are clear on this subject…. I made the point that public statements condemning people will place a barrier between the church and the world (and I note that Jesus came to save and not to condemn), which is why at Hillsong, we don’t want to reduce the real issues in people’s lives to a sound bite. This – like many other issues, is a conversation the church needs to have and we are all on a journey as we grapple with the question of merging biblical truth with a changing world.” (emphasis mine)
Pastor Houston’s response appeased many, but what did he actually clarify? A careful reader will note that he once again did not offer a definitive stance on gay marriage or gay Christians. He alluded to “biblical truth” and “the writings of Paul,” but, to the so-called gay Christian who believes his actively homosexual lifestyle is acceptable to God, he too believes that Paul’s writing “are clear on this subject.” The key to properly understanding Pastor Houston’s thinking falls at the end of his statement:
we [are] grappl[ing] with the question of merging biblical truth with a changing world. (emphasis mine)
Merging biblical truth with a changing world. This is exactly the mindset that swells megachurches and makes the Good News totally irrelevant. To say that “Jesus came to save and not to condemn”—a paraphrase of John 12:47—tells only half the story, because the very next verse, John 12:48, says that there is “one who judges… [and He] will judge [us] at the last day.” Yeshua also came not to put peace on the earth, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). Therefore, to bury this biblical truth in an attempt at relevancy is to ultimately bring the Good News to nothing.
The Plain Truth, Please
The journey we are all on, and the conversation we need to have, must not permit the compromise (or convenient omission) of Scripture. Mark my words: if Pastor Houston cannot find within himself the conviction to openly proclaim what the Scriptures plainly state about homosexuality (or any other sin that keeps people separated from their Creator), we will eventually see that headline, and the fine line that Pastor Houston is trying to walk will disappear under his feet.
Hillsong (and the rest of institutional religion) may be struggling to become relevant in a noisy, godless world; but the Word of God and the message of salvation from sin through the Messiah Yeshua has never not been relevant, and has at no time required our assistance to become so. We ourselves alter that eternal message and render it irrelevant by trying to strike a balance between the world and the Word.
Stand up for the Word of God, Pastor Houston! Proclaim its truth plainly! Let the Scriptures alone define what is relevant, so that you may throw away forever what is not.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; this One was in the beginning with God…. In Him was Life, and the Life was the light of men. And the light shined in the darkness, but the darkness did not perceive it. (John 1:1-5)