Matthew 9:10–13 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
If you haven’t heard the news, one of the most enduring “Evangelical” ministries focusing on people who struggle with same sex attraction – Exodus International – is shutting itself down.
Founded in 1976, Exodus International sprang out of the Melody Land Church in California. It grew to be the umbrella for over 120 ministries in the United States, and for 150 more in some 17 other countries.
In a nearly one hour talk given by President Alan Manning Chambers at EI’s 38th annual conference, June 19 of this year – Chambers announced that the Board of Directors had unanimously voted to cease operations. According to Wikipedia – “In January 2012 then-current president of Exodus International Alan Chambers, during his address to a Gay Christian Network conference, stated that 99.9% of conversion therapy participants do not experience any change to their sexuality and apologized for the previous Exodus slogan “Change Is Possible”.
While we cannot take up the topic of how EI’s errant view of sanctification may be at the root of much of their failure – nevertheless we have another truly profound aspect of this issue to wrestle with.
Shedding even more light on the subject was last night’s airing of Our America, hosted by Lisa Ling on the OWN network. There, Chambers and his wife met with a group from the gay and lesbian community, to hear how they had been hurt by EI in its approach (and what they perceived as the false promise of “Change is Possible”), and for Chambers to express his apology for those hurts. And it was there that the issues behind the issues really began to come to the surface.
Let me be clear that I in no wise wish to minimize the pain and hurt the greater Church (and perhaps these ministries to the homosexual communities especially) have inexcusably and needlessly caused many in this struggle. There has been hard-hearted, truly anti-Christlike attitudes and actions carried out in the name of the Gospel. Barking vulgar epithets, demonizing, cruel jokes, and outright hatred have no place in the Body of Christ when dealing with others, no matter what the sin. At the same time, what became clear both in Chambers’ address at the annual conference, and out of the mouths of those confronting him on Our America, is that there is an underlying consideration which must be dealt with by everyone on both sides of the debate. At the heart of it, is the nature of the Gospel itself.
During Chambers’ speech, he alluded to relatively new book by Tyler Wiggs-Stevenson – “The World is Not Ours to Save.” Chamber cited Wiggs-Stevenson as building thoughts around the phenomena of many soldiers who leave active combat very quickly re-enlisting. They have been so accustomed to fighting in a war and being in combat, that being out of that environment is something they cannot adjust to. They don’t know how to live without an enemy – in the Church (Chambers noted), we too have gotten to the point of needing an enemy. Quoting Wiggs-Stevenson he added “Loving the fight with sin, means loving sin itself. It means you can’t want to win because what would you do if you did?” Chambers then adds, that he believes it is time in the church, that we lay our weapons down. But when it comes to fighting sin and its inward motions – Chambers and Wiggs-Stevenson couldn’t be more wrong. That battle does not end in this life. Ever.
Conspicuously absent from anything Chambers said in his address, was anything remotely related to the Gospel calling those who hear it to abandon sin in turning to Christ. The only emphasis was upon Christ’s acceptance of all. But any notion of repentance was totally missing.
Then we return to last night’s TV show. And what I found interesting was that the same idea of a Gospel which has no repentance component to it – was being argued for by some of Chamber’s confronters. In fact several noted that what they felt was wrong with the Church period, is that they were made to feel like sinners, like there was something wrong with them the way they were born. Thus the Church was unaccepting, unaffirming, and a dangerous place to be. The Church denied them the right to just feel like they were OK, with whoever they were and whatever they did.
Hence it is I have cited the text I have today. For it speaks to this current trend of a repentance-free Gospel of “come to Christ”, but no need to turn from sin, or to acknowledge that one even IS a sinner. And if Jesus didn’t come to save us FROM our sins, not to remain in them – then I for one have no idea what salvation means.
In the text, Jesus is being questioned about His dining with “sinners.” The Pharisees didn’t like it. But we must note that Jesus didn’t say “they aren’t sinners, everyone is fine the way they are” – He went on to explain that it was sinners indeed that He came to save. The bottom line being – and I NEVER in a million years ever thought this idea would need defending, but here we are – if you want to be like a Pharisee, and deny you have sin and NEED saving from it, that you ARE a sinner – you can’t be saved!
Jesus’ point to the Pharisees is if you will not reckon yourself a sinner, sick with that deadly disease and in need of a Savior and that all is lost – you cannot be saved. If you know you need mercy because you know your own guilt, you are of all men most blessed – for He delights to show it.
As I listened both to Chambers, and the complainants, what everyone seems to want is justification for remaining as they are, no matter how polluted with, damaged by or bound in sin. They want God to simply accept them – and not try to change them. They want to ignore the fact we were all made in the image of God, but in sin and rebellion have horrifically marred that image – and that in salvation, God is working to restore that image.
We ARE damaged goods. We ALL come into the world sinners. Gays and lesbians are no exception, nor I would argue any worse – but left with the unique set of challenges that brings to any and all who come to Christ to be “cleansed” and reconciled to the God we are estranged from and living in rebellion against.
This Beloved is what the Gospel is all about. Every single one of us born to Adam’s race are damaged goods. We all need changed. Infinitely more than any of us imagine. He doesn’t call us to change ourselves first before we come to Him. Nor does He leave it to our own devices once we have come. But if no change is needed, if nothing needs cleansed away, if we are all fine as is – then Christ died needlessly, if not foolishly or insanely. To deny these facts is to deny the need for the Gospel, for the incarnation, and especially for the cross. If our sin wasn’t both guilt and pollution, then the cross means nothing. If it is not Jesus taking the just wrath of God that we deserved – then it is utter nonsense. And yet this is precisely what the new Gospel, the Gospel without repentance, the Gospel which invites all but leaves them just as is – does. It negates the need for and therefore the meaning of the Cross altogether. It undoes Calvary, and denies the Gospel. It deceptively leaves men and women of all stripes still in their sins – but blind in a religious stupor that makes them believe they have become Christ’s. It is a lie.
Whether the particular symptom of our sinfulness is same sex attraction, heterosexual lust, greed, pride, violence or “whatever is contrary to sound doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:8-11) – the call of the Gospel to us all is to forsake our sin to follow Christ. Jesus didn’t tell the woman caught in adultery that she was fine in her extra-marital relationships as is – He forgave her, but then told her to go and sin no more. Her sexual free expression wasn’t fine. It was to be repented of.
Christ receives any and all sinners guilty of any and all sins. His blood is sufficient to cleanse even someone like me. But He does not receive us to leave us. We are called to freedom – not freedom TO sin, but to walk a new way: Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
The Gospel is for sinners. And if you will not own your sinfulness, and acknowledge that God would be just in condemning you and banishing you to Hell this very moment – you can’t be saved. But if you own it – no matter how severe the bondage, there is forgiveness, cleansing and deliverance. And a sweet security in His finished work on your behalf – no matter how hard the struggle in the years that follow. He will be on your side all the way – with the promise of completing that work in time. That, is the glory of the true Gospel.