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Sunday, 26 May 2013

The Second Coming of Christ: Peaceful or Violent?

I was recently involved in an online discussion in the Christadelphians Worldwide Facebook group on the topic of the end-times conflict that will occur at the Second Coming of Christ.

This is a very unpopular topic in postmodern Western culture, so I wasn't surprised that some sharp disagreement arose. However, I was unprepared for the claim that when Christ returns he will win the nations over with the greatest outpouring of love the world has ever seen, rather than using force.

The person who made this point insisted that it would be a contradiction for the same Jesus who preached the virtues of love and peace to use violence to impose his rule on the nations.

This position is attractive to our sensibilities in the postmodern age, where the rights of the individual are paramount. Sinful humans are practically entitled to God's mercy, and God's sovereign right to judge his creatures is belittled if not rejected entirely.

 The problem with this view of Christ's return is that no scripture - including the words of Jesus - makes any such point when describing Christ's return. Jesus himself compared his coming to two past situations recounted in Genesis: the days of Noah and the days of Lot (Luke 17:26-30). In both cases, as Jesus described it, people were going about their business when judgment came from God and "destroyed them all." He concludes, "So will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed."

Short of rejecting Jesus' words there is no way to revise this historical message to bring it in line with postmodern values. Many other scriptures could be brought to bear on this matter, but the point is clear. Any view of Christ's return which ignores judgment and destruction is unscriptural. It is true that Christ's return will be a joyous occasion for those who are expecting it, and that it will be the first of a series of events leading to world peace. However, this does not change the fact that Christ will bring judgment and will crush resistance to his rule.

Judgment and destruction are compatible with the love of Jesus. For anyone who thinks otherwise, I recommend D.A. Carson's book, "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God."

Friday, 3 May 2013

Chris Broussard, the Church, and Homosexuality

I was already planning to write about homosexuality and the church this week, but the topic has now taken on even greater poignancy. On Monday, professional basketball player Jason Collins became the first athlete in one of the USA's four major professional sports to announce he is gay.  Asked for his opinion of this announcement, TV sportscaster Chris Broussard, a born-again Christian, caused a national uproar by stating that living as an unrepentant homosexual is open rebellion against Jesus Christ. Jason Collins noted in a subsequent interview that he too is a Christian, but denies that homosexuality is sinful. Which position is aligned with the will of God?

Before turning to this question I want to make a couple of disclaimers. First, I realize that the church has often treated homosexuals very badly. The heterosexual majority know we haven't committed homosexual sins, which makes homosexuals a great scapegoat, a way of turning the focus away from our own failings.

On that point, I myself am a sinner, and one who has lost battles against my own sexual desires. However, God's forgiveness is available to me on the basis of my faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22-23). The same forgiveness is available to any sinner, but is conditional on repenting and confessing our sins (Luke 24:47; 1 John 1:9-10). We cannot confess our sins if we don't think they are sins; hence the need to seek God's will concerning homosexuality. We cannot simply err on the side of approval, because justifying evil is just as wrong as condemning good in God's sight (Prov. 17:15).

Thirdly, I realize this is an extremely sensitive subject, and I regret any offense it may cause (but cf. 2 Cor. 7:8-10).

My previous blog concluded that Leviticus 18:22 was a general prohibition of homosexual acts. However, does this commandment apply in the church age? Several issues arise in answering this question. First, does the Bible convey the will of God concerning sexual morality? Non-Christians would answer no, and some Christians (such as Bishop John Shelby Spong) would too. However, since this issue is beyond our scope, it will be assumed that the answer is yes.

Second, are Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 moral laws or ritual laws? Some Old Testament scholars claim that these texts reflect the cultural circumstances at the time, where homosexual acts were part of foreign worship rituals. Since homosexuality has no idolatrous connotations today, the commandment no longer applies. However, there is no indication of such nuances in Lev. 18:22 and 20:13. Furthermore, this view incorrectly assumes that ritual and moral laws are wholly distinct. Adultery and child sacrifice are also prohibited in Lev. 18 but, while these may have been associated with idolatrous worship, their prohibition is also moral in nature (cf. Matt. 19:18).

Other scholars claim that the Levitical laws were done away with by Christ, so the law against homosexual acts is no more applicable for the church than the dietary laws (Lev. 11) or the prohibition of mixing fabrics (Lev. 19:19). However, while these symbolic laws were fulfilled and done away with by Christ, there is no symbolic fulfillment of homosexuality in Christ. And, as will be seen, Levitical laws concerning sexual morality are upheld in the New Testament.

The best explanation of the sexual morality laws in Lev. 18 and 20 is that they are simply an elaboration of the Seventh Commandment ("You shall not commit adultery") and are thus moral absolutes for all time, preserving the family in the way God designed it as the core social unit.

The New Testament confirms that these commandments are still in effect. As recorded in Acts 15, there was a great controversy in the apostolic church about whether the Law of Moses was binding on Gentile Christians. In the end, it was decided that it was not, but they were required to "abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality" (Acts 15:29). The first three prohibitions come from Leviticus 17, and so the fourth must refer to the sexual morality laws in Leviticus 18. Thus we have it on apostolic authority that these laws (including the prohibition on homosexual acts) do apply in the church age.

The same idea can be found in Paul's writings. In 1 Cor. 5:1, Paul writes, "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife." Paul has taken the description of incest from Lev. 18:8 and Lev. 20:11. He orders the Corinthian church "not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality" (1 Cor. 5:11). Based on the prior allusion to Leviticus (and the quotation from the Law in 1 Cor. 5:13), we can only conclude that Paul is taking his definition of "sexual immorality" from the Law of Moses.

Paul then mentions homosexuality directly in the following chapter:
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor. 6:9-10 NASB)
The two bold words here are translated from the Greek words malakos and arsenokoites. This is the earliest known use of the Greek word arsenokoites, and scholars believe that Paul either coined it himself or borrowed it from Hellenistic Jewish contemporaries. Some have conjectured that the word means something more specific than homosexuality, such as pederasty or homosexual prostitution. However, the most likely source of the word is again Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, where the Greek Septuagint translation used by Hellenistic Jews uses the words arsenos (male) and koite (bed). The highly respected lexicon of New Testament Greek, BDAG, defines arsenokoites as the active partner in a homosexual relationship. Malakos (which literally means 'soft'), is defined by BDAG in this case as the passive partner.

In view of the reference to the sexual morality laws of Leviticus 18 in the previous chapter, and the Greek translation of Lev. 18:22 and 20:13 as the likely source of the word arsenokoites, it is difficult to dispute that Paul is upholding the Levitical prohibition on homosexual acts.

Space prevents us from looking at other significant texts such as Romans 1:26-27. However, the evidence we have looked at demands the conclusion that the Levitical prohibition on homosexual acts represents the will of God for all times and cultures (note that I have emphasized "acts": it is the behaviour and not the orientation that is sin).

Chris Broussard spoke the truth. It is a very inconvenient truth in 21st century Western society. However, it is my hope that some will realize that Jesus does not want to condemn anyone (John 3:17). The Lord desperately hopes (2 Peter 3:9) that practicing homosexuals will recognize the error of their ways as the all-important first step on the road to redemption. This is the same response required of a heterosexual sinner, and the church should be equally emphatic in reaching out to all people with the message of repentance unto salvation.