The challenge of knowing how to live as a follower of Jesus in the complexity of our culture is a big one. The challenge is not a new one, although in every generation it changes as the culture we live in changes. For 1st century Christians in the Roman Empire there were a particular set of challenges. For 21st century Christians there are a different (although related) set – and these will vary hugely depending upon which country one lives in.
In the UK just now, the government is consulting on allowing same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies. For many in churches (and other religious organisations) this is perceived as an unhelpful step, and are communicating their concerns about it to the government and to the public via the media. The Coalition for Marriage is an umbrella group compiling a petition for those who want the definition of marriage to remain as it is – i.e. one man and one woman. The petition now has over 250,000 signatures. I was one of the first. I also wrote to my MP.
However, I am wondering if I made a mistake in signing. Why?
I am a Christian who is committed to the idea that God invites everyone to follow him, and that those who choose to follow are called to live a life that is radically different to the one they lived before, and radically different to the society around us. Put simply, we are called to become more and more like Jesus – “1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Ephesians 5:1). This includes the area of relationships, sex and sexuality. One of the key decisions that I had to make in becoming a Christian was whether I was willing to hand my sexuality over to God to go his way rather than my own. This meant, put simply, that I was called to celibacy if single and sexual faithfulness if married. This, I believe, is where the New Testament leads someone who has decided that they want to be a Christian and follow Jesus.
This subject came up breifly in my house group meeting this week. And while a few people where discussing it I was reflecting, and verses from 1Corinthians 5 came into my mind:
“9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-calledbrother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges.”
In this passage, the apostle Paul is calling the Christian church to purity, and saying that if someone persists in a sin and is unwilling to repent – then they can no longer be considered part of the church. However, this is for those who have decided to be Christians – to follow Christ. But of those who are outside, Paul says it is not his job to judge them – that’s for God. There seems a clear distinction between those who are inside the church, and those who are outside.
In signing the petition am I seeking to judge those outside the church, those who have not chosen to follow Christ? Am I seeking, by force of law, to impose Christian morality on those who are not Christians? Is my task as an individual Christian, and as a church leader to encourage Christians to live by the radical ethical standards of Jesus – but for non-Christians to give them the freedom to make their own choices (both good and bad), all the while holding out the invitation to come and join this radical kingdom and church?
Pondering this one. Might need to write back to my MP changing my mind.
Thoughts (gracious and reasoned) on this are welcome.