All are Welcome, but All are not Accepted

by Joseph Franks

This week, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, hosted a seminar regarding the gospel, the church, homosexuality, and the future of marriage. It was held at the Opryland Resort, and dozens of well known speakers addressed the 1300 participants. Some of the topics addressed at this conference were:

  • How do we effectively minister to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender?
  • How has the divorce culture impacted marriage in our communities and our churches?
  • What does sexual faithfulness look like for a same-sex attracted Christian?
  • Why did God create marriage and why did he design it for the common good?
  • How should a pastor counsel a same-sex couple that wants to join his church?
  • How can churches minister to those who are single, dating, divorced or celibate?
  • How can Christians show the love of Christ to gay family members or neighbors?

According to Scripture, the Church of Jesus Christ is to show both compassion and conviction. She is to extend open arms to “whosoever will” and show the door to those who incorrigibly live in unrepentant sin. She is to be like Christ in offering tender grace and mercy to drunks, adulterers, fornicators, and tax collectors; while also labeling some as “snakes, serpents, brood of vipers, and children of the devil.”

But how exactly should the modern-day church navigate between the sins of arrogant legalism and abominable license? Perhaps the following parable from Jesus will be of some assistance:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  (Luke 18:9-14)

Jesus Christ lauds the penitent worshiper who humbles himself, enters the church, proclaims his sin, and pleads for the undeserved mercy of God. To such an individual, the Gospel promise of justification is offered. And in such a person, the Gospel effect of sanctification will be progressively seen. Jesus Christ promises free grace to gay or straight alike. Everyone and anyone who thirsts can come to the Water of Life and drink freely.

However, in this parable, Jesus has little regard for the individual who enters the church, refuses to acknowledge his own transgression, and finds solace by focusing on the sin of others. He may worship, fast, and tithe, but regardless of his religious talk and practice, he is not justified. And his unconverted condition will continuously be proven by his unchanged actions.

Therefore friends, in our current conversation, who exactly is represented by the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable? Is it the individual fighting for gay equality in the church? Or is it the person supporting the old-school ethic of Christendom? Friends, it could be both of you?

Are you the arrogant, self-righteous, straight individual treating homosexuals with contempt? Are you too busy thanking God that your struggle is not sexual in nature; all the while ignoring your equally heinous sin in another category or area of life? If so, you may be devoutly religious, but you are unjustified. Such an arrogant posture is not the posture of the humble worshiper of Christ who has received undeserved grace.

Or, are you the arrogant, self-righteous, GLBT individual who treats orthodox Christians with contempt? Are you so busy noticing the lack of love by some; all the while ignoring the lack of biblical holiness in yourself? If so, you too may be a praying, fasting, singing, tithing, participating individual in the presence of Jesus, who remains lost and not justified. You have been welcomed by Christ, but not accepted.

So what should we do? We all should enter the church this Sunday, humbly bow before God, confess our sins, find grace, and begin the process of forsaking our sins. It matters not whether our transgressions are of the Pharisaical Legalistic Brand or the Pagan Licentious Brand — all individuals who confess, repent, and forsake their sins are welcome and accepted. However, if we enter the house of prayer and the presence of Jesus, and address not our own transgressions, Christ is not pleased, we are not justified, and our religious talk and exercise is in vain.