Same Sex Divorce


Same Sex DivorceOne of the sweet advantages of insisting that there is no such thing as same-sex ‘marriage’ is that there is therefore also no such thing as same-sex ‘divorce’.

In the days ahead, this will be very good news for many who repent.

In the years to come, God will be merciful on thousands of those who have been damaged by the present moral madness of our culture. He will exalt Christ in the conversion of many who have lived in same-sex relationships. More complexities than we can imagine will be presented to us in the church.

Uncharted territory

One of the more difficult scenarios will be what the church should do when, say, two women, who have lived in a so-called married state for some years, are converted to Christ, repent of their sin, and want to join the church. And what if they have children?

In this uncharted territory, here is a map with some of the biblical guideposts I foresee. It is not exhaustive. I invite every pastor to pray that God would grant him the great privilege of leading new believers through this process.

1. Rejoice. We should join all heaven in the joy that our Father and the angels feel over this repentance.

‘There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance’ (Luke 15.7).

2. Pray. This is going to be complex and difficult. We need humble wisdom beyond the merely human.

‘The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere’ (James 3.17).

3. Listen. We must not assume we know all we need to know about the situation. Disentangling the relational threads (both sinful and natural) will require significant knowledge of the situation present and past.

‘If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame’ (Proverbs 18.13).

‘Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?’ (John 7.51).

4. Instruct. Based on what we have learned from listening, we will share what the Bible says first about the gospel, and second about the sin of sexual relations outside biblical marriage.

‘Christ died for our sins’ (1 Corinthians 15.3).

‘All sins will be forgiven the children of man’ (Mark 3.28).

‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins’ (1 John 1.9).

‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation’ (2 Corinthians 5.17).

‘Put off your old self [and] be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and . . . put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness’ (Ephesians 4.22–24).

‘Flee from sexual immorality’ (1 Corinthians 6.18).

5. Clarify that same-sex attraction is a brokenness that is part of humanity’s fallen condition, along with other emotional/psychological/physical desires, dispositions and infirmities. Explain that willful expressions of this brokenness through prohibited behaviours is what the Bible has in mind when it says: ‘Neither those who practise homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy … will inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 6.10).

6. Help them see, therefore, that what the state has called a ‘marriage’ between them is not marriage. There is no such thing as ‘same-sex marriage’ in God’s eyes. Therefore, they are not married in the sight of God, regardless of how the state defines their relationship. Do not embrace the state’s prostitution of language by calling the former state ‘marriage’ or the ending of it ‘divorce’.

‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’ (Genesis 2.24).

‘From the beginning of creation, God made them male and female. Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife’ (Mark 10.6-7).

7. Make plain that, therefore, since there is no such thing as ‘same-sex marriage’, there is no such thing as ‘same-sex divorce’ in the sight of God. The biblical condemnations of divorce do not apply to non-existent ‘marriages’. What God has not joined together, man cannot separate.

‘Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery’ (Luke 16.18).

‘What God has joined together, let not man separate’ (Mark 10.9).

8. Patiently help them think and pray through the many painful and complex issues involved in ending this romantic, sexual relationship.

‘Encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all’ (1 Thessalonians 5.14).

‘Love is patient and kind’ (1 Corinthians 13.4).

‘Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom’ (Colossians 3.16).
9. Be ready to surround them with loving and generous brothers and sisters who can help provide for all the practical necessities that will be involved: from housing to childcare to counselling to legal assistance to transportation to financial counsel. Fold them into a nurturing web of new caring relationships.

‘Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality’ (Romans 12.13).

‘If one of you says to a brother or a sister, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled”, without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?’ (James 2.16).

‘Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3.18).

‘There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands’ (Mark 10.29-30).

10. Assist them in the legal processes and expenses of undoing what the state called ‘marriage’. That the state will call this process ‘divorce’ is not decisive in what it really is: the removal of a sinful fiction.

‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’ (Matthew 22.21).

‘Let us decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother’ (Romans 14.13).

11. Help them see that in all likelihood an ongoing cohabitation without romantic or sexual involvement will be unrealistic relationally, and misleading as a witness to the world. A new way of living in community will be needed. And perhaps, painful as it may be, some distance between them may be necessary for a significant season.

‘Abstain from every form (or appearance) of evil’ (1 Thessalonians 5.22).

‘Be wise as serpents and innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10.16).

‘I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you’ (Psalm 32.8).

12. Help them pray and think through what may be the most painful issue of all, the custody of the children. If the children are old enough to have some sense of what is happening, provide the most sensitive counsel and instruction so that they can understand that God is doing something really good, even if at the time it may feel painfully disruptive. Pray that God would create in all the adults involved a heart of sacrifice and love that puts the good of the children above immediate desires. And hold out the possibility with pressure that God is able to work the wonder of providing a father for these children.

‘Children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children’ (2 Corinthians 12.14).
‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction’ (James 1.27).

‘Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honour your father and mother. … Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord’ (Ephesians 6.1-4).

‘With God all things are possible’ (Matthew 19.26).

13. Don’t leave these women and children on their own once a new life has been established. There will be many ongoing temptations and challenges for years to come. Seek to fold them into gospel-rich churches with seriously supportive relationships.

‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12.26-27).

‘We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. … Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection’ (Romans 12.4-10).

http://www.desiringGod.org
Copyright 2013 John Piper.
Used with permission

This article was first published in the July 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

The secret thoughts of an unlikely convert (book review)


THE SECRET THOUGHTS OF AN UNLIKELY CONVERT The secret thoughts of unlikely convert
An English professor’s journey into Christian faith
By Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
Crown & Covenant. 154 pages. £8.99
ISBN 978 1 884 527 388

Sometimes when I finish reading a book the ideas in it haunt me — the narrator’s voice echoes inside my head. I wish that I hadn’t finished it because it has been such good company and everything else I have to read doesn’t feel as satisfying. I have just had that experience on finishing this book.

So why my enthusiasm? It’s not the title — although the by-line, ‘An English professor’s journey into Christian faith’, appeals to me. It’s not its slick presentation or that it has a clear target audience — in fact I’m not sure who the target audience is because it ranges across and through so many themes. The title actually describes it well — ‘secret thoughts’ — and the reader is taken into the mind of a perceptive and articulate woman who loves God, but her journey has been anything but conventional.

The book opens with this declaration: ‘When I was 28 years old, I boldly declared myself lesbian. I was a teaching associate in one of the first and strongest Women’s Studies Departments in the nation’.

She considered Christians bad thinkers and anti-intellectual, but they also scared her: ‘Here is one of the deepest ways Christians scared me: the lesbian community was home and home felt safe and secure; the people that I knew best and cared about were in that community; and finally, the lesbian community was accepting and welcoming while the Christian community appeared (and too often is) exclusive, judgmental, scornful, and afraid of diversity’.

Like a train wreck

This book shows how God brought her to himself through the loving and gentle friendship of a pastor and her devouring of the Bible. It was not an easy transition; she refers to her conversion like experiencing a train wreck, as she moved from radical feminism to being married to a pastor of a Reformed Presbyterian Church (unaccompanied psalm singing). Yet this book is so much more than the story of her conversion, albeit a powerful witness to the way God transforms the most unexpected people. It looks at issues of sexuality and witness to the gay community, but it is not a book primarily about the gay issue, although it is worth reading for that alone.
This book shows a person working out their theology having come to church as a total outsider for whom everything must be questioned and grappled with. It looks at what it means to be part of a church, relationships in church, the value of worship, hospitality, and serving others. She examines the principles of Christian marriage, and is a passionate advocate of adoption, fostering and home-schooling. She discusses Bible reading, hermeneutics, worldviews and education. Her perceptions are sharp, witty and thought provoking, I don’t agree with all of her conclusions (if I did I would be in a psalm-singing church), but she makes poignant and pertinent observations.

‘I loved (and love) the Bible, gorging on huge chunks at a time. But these skinny verses, taken out of their rich context, were just sitting there on placards, naked and rude.’

‘Too often the church does not know how to interface with university culture because it comes to the table only ready to moralise and not to dialogue.’

‘I came to believe that my job was not to critique and “receive” a sermon, but to dig into it, to seize its power, to participate with its message, and to steal its fruit.’

‘We in the church tend to be more fearful of the [perceived] sin in the world than of the sin in our own heart. Why is that?’

Finding a friend

I could quote on and on. Reading this book felt like finding a friend. Like all good friends there is room for disagreement, but, like the best friends we have, there is much to learn. Rosaria defies easy categorisation but I believe this book, despite its American context, has much to teach us — and not least how to share the gospel with our gay friends.

Karen Soole, Chair of The Northern Women’s Convention; 
blogs at http://karensdesk.co.uk

 

(This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057)

A pastor’s worst nightmare…


A pastors worst nightmare

His wife stops believing in Christ and backs out of church. One such pastor’s wife shares her story with Mary Davis for EN.

EN: Take us right back. What were your early experiences of the Lord?

PW: Although only one of my parents was a Christian, I was a well taught child, through church and by nightly family prayers.

I had religious thoughts, even remarkable answers to prayer which impressed me enormously. As a teenager, I went to a women’s Bible study group and I gradually realised the girls knew the Lord in a way I didn’t. One day, I understood for the first time what Jesus’s death meant for me — that my own sins could be forgiven and I need not fear meeting God on judgment day. Soon after, I went to university and got involved in the Christian Union straight away.

EN: Would you say that your faith then was genuine?

PW: I think, yes. I was considered a strong Christian — I knew the Bible and Christian doctrine and took a leading role in Christian activities. I married a Christian man, he trained for ministry and, as the pastor’s wife, I was very involved with our congregations. It was a joy and privilege. Did I know the Lord himself? I think the answer must be ‘yes’, but not as well as I should have done. I had let head knowledge and past experiences replace a close, ongoing, personal walk with my Saviour. I guess my subsequent experience emphasises the truth of 1 Corinthians 10.12: ‘So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!’

EN: But you started drifting away from the Lord. What happened?

PW: I was very tired from juggling family and church. My husband and I had been close in our early years, but we drifted apart because of the pressures on us. We have very different personalities and the differences were highlighted by poor communication and lack of time together. I became lonely and disillusioned with my marriage, and thought things would never change.

With my husband often absent, I felt like a single parent — dealing with parenting issues on my own. Having married young, I hadn’t had a career. I felt a lack of personal fulfilment. Also, my mother’s death caused further emotional trauma and tiredness. I ended up totally overwhelmed and hopeless, and felt God was doing nothing to help me. Worse, I blamed him for putting me in a position where I had to accept everything and couldn’t complain. As a pastor’s wife, you can feel obliged to endure anything so as not to jeopardise the Lord’s work. I now realise the Lord was there all the time, but I’d stopped looking to him. My personal prayer life and daily Bible reading had vanished under the relentless daily routine and, with it, my vital lifeline to God’s presence and help. If I have just one message from all this, it must be: ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well-spring of life’ (Proverbs 4.23).

EN: Where did you look for direction?

PW: I went back to work, which brought me some success and satisfaction. Despite God’s kindness in this, I was very rebellious towards him. I became so angry and hopeless that I consciously gave up my faith. I’m not sure whether I turned my back on God (but still believed in him), or decided there was no God. At first I think it was the former. However, as I continued to ignore him, I didn’t like the bitterness and hardness I saw in myself, so I tried very hard to believe that God didn’t exist. Rather than being bitter because God had deliberately sent me so many troubles, I tried to believe that ‘these things just happen’, so bitterness was irrelevant.

EN: Why did you stay in the marriage?

PW: I think God used several providential factors to ‘hedge me in’: health problems, fear of hurting our parents and, perhaps, most of all, my maternal instincts that didn’t want my children’s lives to be damaged.

I stopped going to church. I tried to keep up appearances for a while — but I felt such a hypocrite and so miserable that my husband finally suggested I stop going. It felt terrible at first, and I rather thought the sky might fall in, but it didn’t. I’m not sure we managed the process well. We kept it quiet, which was probably a mistake, as my husband didn’t immediately get the support he needed (though he later confided in friends). We dropped out of Christian society as a couple. Busy urban life, or perhaps embarrassment or sensitivity, meant that most people left us to it.

EN: Looking back, what do you think was going on in your life and heart?

PW: To be truthful, I hadn’t thought about it much before now. I believe the Lord kept me, even though I was consciously rebelling against him. He graciously prevented me from wrecking my life and the lives of my family. He graciously guided me in my working life and things I learnt then were later wonderfully ‘recycled’ in family experiences.

I wonder whether I was a ‘lost sheep’ or a ‘prodigal daughter’? Perhaps an amalgam of the two? Looking back, it seems to me that the Christian life is much more personal and complex and challenging than I realised in my youth and I think young believers ought to be taught that the Christian life is a journey, not a one-off conversion event with a plateau-like experience after it. I guess that is the vital message of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress.

EN: You were ‘away from the Lord’ for 14 years. What brought you back?

PW: The immediate event was the astonishing conversion of one of our children. He had left Christianity in adult life, causing me major spiritual discouragement. But God saved him and changed him.

During my years away, I thought constantly about issues of faith. I read lots and listened to debates, but found secular answers increasingly unsatisfactory. They didn’t seem to go the heart of the matter. The problem of evil had always troubled me — but there was also the ‘problem’ of good. Where did it come from? And there was personal morality. I didn’t like the darkness and lovelessness developing in my own heart without God. It seemed to bear out the truth of the gospel.

Our marriage was gradually rebuilt. Through many pressures in our family life and my work life, my husband was a tower of strength to me. His kindness and support warmed my heart towards him in love and gratitude and the Lord gave us opportunities to rebuild and strengthen our marriage.

Christian friends let me pour out my feelings to them — and it was often what they did which helped and impressed me, their unconditional love, the way they lived, rather than what they said or believed. Regardless of their faults, they seemed to have a quality of life that was undeniably more loving and selfless than unbelievers — though I had some kind unbelieving friends too. All these things, including, I’ve no doubt, many prayers for me, played a part in my eventual return to faith.

EN: Do you have any advice for young couples in the ministry — or couples in general?

PW: God’s timescales are longer than ours. My husband and I could easily be another statistic of a broken marriage — it would have been easy to give up. I claim no credit — as I said, I think I was prevented from leaving. Working through issues and growing in knowledge of one another, and, most of all, knowledge of God and his ways, has brought solidity and depth to our relationship. So I would urge couples to persevere and not give up.

The Bible stresses the importance of patience — the thought of God’s patience with us should make us patient with one another, in marriage and other relationships. He has loved us so patiently and faithfully when we didn’t deserve it at all. It is hard to be patient, sometimes heart-breaking, but God’s ways are so different from our ways and they genuinely work best.

Young ministry couples need to make sure they give quality time to their own relationship and don’t take one another for granted. I think the Devil especially targets ministry families — it is a no-brainer that, if he can destroy the leaders of the church, he will greatly forward his own purposes. Churches should especially pray for their pastors and their families and not think they are ‘super-Christians’.

EN: What would you say to a Christian whose spouse is drifting spiritually?

PW: Don’t lose hope, the Lord can bring them back — ‘He is able to save to the uttermost’. Keep praying. If they have had a deep Christian faith, there will be a continuous struggle going on in their minds. They may be thinking a lot about spiritual things, even if they don’t admit it to you. God can use anything in their lives to speak to them. I did a scientific course in my leisure time and was amazed at the complexity of the structure of a single cell. It made me think there must certainly be a God because believing that such organisms could just invent themselves strained credulity too much.

EN: What have you learned about the Christian life through all this?

PW: God’s grace is so much greater than I ever imagined, his love for me is always there, and I can rely on him in all situations. I’ve also realised, a bit late in my Christian life, the importance of praying about everything. I’ve found — wonder of wonders — that God is as good as his word! Daily answers to prayer not only strengthen your faith but give you a growing sense of God’s love. I’m also learning it’s not all about me, but about what God wants for me. Most of all, I’ve learned that God’s ways are both very mysterious, and also very merciful, and I love him for it.

This article was first published in the June 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Hit by friendly fire: What to do when fellow believers hurt you


I once sold insurance door-to-door in low-income areas of Louisiana.

One of my clients was a poor family who lived in a run-down part of town. Every month I would meet them in their home to collect their insurance money. Afterwards, we would sit and talk. One day I noticed that the clock was wrong. It said nine o’clock when, in fact, it was noon. Finally, I mentioned it to the husband and wife. Tears came to their eyes. ‘That was the moment our boy died ten years ago’, the husband whispered as he held his sobbing wife. I looked away at the clock once again, and understood. The clock had stopped in their lives at the moment they lost their boy.

Stopping the clock

The pain of friendly fire can stop the clock. When wounded by a friend in our own house, it is hard to go on. There is no pain like it. This happens to Christians who are hurt by other Christians and who fail to identify their pain with Christ. The clock stops. They go through life, month after month, year after year, and often church after church, but in many cases the clock stopped in their lives years ago, when they were hurt. They were disillusioned. They were heartbroken. They would never be the same again.

How many reading these words are living their lives with the ‘clock stopped’?

Victimhood

Today victimhood seems to be an accepted way of living. As a gospel minister, I see walking-wounded victims of abuse, of scandal, of failed marriages and of unhappy childhoods. I can also feel a sense of being wounded, a tendency towards victimhood, in my own being. It is part of the fallen condition of our humanity.

However, living as a victim is not living at all, because life cannot go forward when the clock has stopped at the point of our last betrayal. God did not intend that you should live as a victim. That is not the gospel way. Victimhood in the body of Christ may be normal (for who goes through life without some chinks in their armour?), but taking on the identity of a victim and living like that for years is not the gospel way. Now, I do not propose a moralistic answer that just says, ‘Shape up; stiff upper lip. Chop, chop. Get up and get on with it’. Neither is that sort of unbiblical Stoicism, which denies the human pain that we all may feel, a pathway to healing, but, rather, it is a formula for a more complicated disease of the soul.

The way of the gospel

There is another way: the gospel way, the way of the cross, which will lead to deep healing for this abysmal lesion in the body of Christ, the church. But I warn you, it will involve another kind of pain — the pain of Christ’s cross. However, Christ’s cross will bring resurrection, and the new life he brings will also make the clock start ticking again.

In the gospel story, revealed over time from Joseph through Paul and down to your life and mine, the person or situation that seeks to destroy us becomes a channel through which the hands of a sovereign and loving God can reach to save us. This is the gospel. This is the preaching of the cross, where the ‘emblem of suffering and shame’ became the sacred sign of victory and new life. Embracing this pattern of living, admittedly contra mundum — against the wisdom of this world — leads from victimhood to victory. But it is not an easy road. It is, however, the only road to healing.

Joseph, Moses and Paul

Turning to the Old Testament, this is what we perceive in Joseph’s capacity to forgive his brothers after they literally ‘ditched’ him (and Joseph’s boastful preaching about his dream of superiority over his brothers is understood to be connected to this retribution, however unjust). Wisely, Joseph identified his pain with God. In God’s purposes, the pain was intended to bring about a blessing. Being hurt by his brothers made sense. The pain of false accusation made sense. The trial of unjust imprisonment was good. The years of separation from his father were good for him. He was saying with Moses: ‘Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil’ (Psalm 90.15).

The power at work in the life of Joseph is what you need in order to get past this hurt. It is the power that was present in Paul when he said: ‘I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2.20).

In Philippians, Paul embraces the pain that comes at him as other Christians seem glad that he is in prison and, in so doing, identifies with Jesus Christ. This allows Paul to move from being victim to victor.

From victim to victor

Isn’t that what you want for your life? Isn’t that what you desire for your church, which today, as you read this, may be fractured from the pain of infighting and rips and tears in the bridal gown of the church? There is hope here in God’s Word, and there is healing for the walking wounded.

What I shared with hurt people that I have met with in the past is the same message that I want to share with you today as though I were your pastor. For believers hurt by other believers, for loved ones hurt by other loved ones, for anyone feeling like a victim of another person, or maybe just feeling betrayed by life, you can move from being victim to victor and deal with the pain of betrayal or suffering by taking three severe steps.

We see these steps being taken by Paul, who is in prison as a result of the plotting of his own people (Philippians 3.10-11) and by Joseph, who was mistreated by his own brothers (Genesis 50.19-20).

We also see the goal before us who are the wounded: ‘That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead’ (Philippians 3.10-11).

Let us now begin our journey to explore these crucial steps that the Holy Spirit will show us…

A prayer

‘O my Father, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who knew loneliness and betrayal and heartache on the cross, teach me to bring my questions to you. Help me now to sit at your feet and learn the way of peace. Help me to appropriate the gospel of your grace to my life. Help me.’

This is an edited chapter from the book Hit by friendly fire: What to do when fellow believers hurt you by Michael A. Milton, published by Evangelical Press (£4.99, ISBN 978 0 852 347 768), and is used with permission.