Blessed with Children

So what is the most God-pleasing number of children to have?

3 days into VBS this week and I can’t help but have children on the brain.  Many wonderful things go on at the typical VBS.  Young children get an “out of the ordinary” opportunity for social development.  Young Christians meet new friends.  Most importantly, children are introduced to their Lord and Savior, Jesus.

Although VBS has a multitude of wonderful aspects, one thing I would not necessarily describe it as is a  “procreation motivator”.  After several hours of VBS, ask any one of our adult helpers if “having more children of their own” is a strong desire, and I can almost guarantee, at that moment, it is not.

Children are cute.  But their antics are not always cute.  Children can be a LOT of fun and provide a beautifully innocent perspective on life.  But children also can be very demanding, and sometimes, very naughty.  So, after 4 days of supervising over 60 children………”VBS daddy” is tired.

Recently someone sent me an interesting article regarding our country’s seeming rise in deliberate birth control, i.e. married couples simply choosing not to have children.  The article argued that our country, much like the Roman Empire, has seen the destruction of the family unit (traditionally the basic building block of  society) and that this is in large part due to viewing sex as something simply for our pleasure and not for procreation.  Socially, the concern is that America is eventually going to “birth control” itself out of its global prominence.  Spiritually, the concern is the question of whether or not this defies God’s “be fruitful and multiply” statements of the Old Testament, and, if Christians follow the pattern of our culture, what does this mean for Christianity in the future (particularly as birthrates in Muslim cultures continue to remain strong)?  Speaking once of the declined birth rates in Europe and the possible effects its had on religion, a professor I had in school once described it as “Europe doing to itself what the Turks tried and failed to do to it for hundreds of years.”

I find this whole issue to be quite fascinating.  As a childless Christian pastor, I also feel that I’m in a somewhat strange position.  A generation or two ago, it seems as though the assumption was that a pastor would have a “large” family, in accord with God’s Genesis “be fruitful and multiply” decree.  Not only was this seen as godly obedience, but also as an opportunity to bolster the Sunday attendance numbers.  Okay, so I’m kidding about the last part, but pastoral families with a more than average number of children was considered commonplace.  As with farming families, children (and in many some cases, lots of them) was assumed.

And so today, partially because I am a pastor, partially because I’m married, people regularly ask my wife and me when we’re going to start having our own little ones.  Now, I’m certainly not offended by the question.  Outside of something that directly mocks my Lord or what he stands for, I’m not easily offended.  So please understand that I am by no means upset when someone asks.  It’s a fairly natural question.  Nonetheless, with the amount of couples today who, for a variety of reasons, try but are unable to have children, it surprises me that people still ask this question.  Much like asking a woman “So, when are you due?” without being 110% sure that she is indeed pregnant, this is one of those questions that social etiquette probably encourages us to steer clear of.

That said, the question still remains, what about married couples who are indeed able to procreate and yet, for one reason or another, choose not to either have children, or, have any more children?  In other words, what about this “be fruitful and multiply” business?

Well…..the truth is, I cringe a little when I hear people (occasionally including pastors) talk about God’s mandate for procreation.   I think this could perhaps be an example of biblical quoting without careful biblical contextual scholarship.  Satan quoted Scripture when he was tempting Jesus in the wilderness, but he was distorting God’s Word in the process in attempts to promote his agenda.  “Proof texting” as it’s called, stating phrases from Scripture to make your point appear more authoritative  or divine, without carefully grasping the context in which it was originally stated, leads to overstatements or even false doctrine.

Let’s look carefully at the 3 times in Scripture where God specifically makes the command: “Be fruitful and increase in number.” The first occasion is in Genesis 1:28.  This is the most commonly thought of instance.  God had just created a perfect world.  The crown of his creation was mankind.  He handed over the keys of the world to Adam and Eve and said, “Take good care of it.  This is my gift to you.” It was a big planet.  There was a lot of unoccupied space and untapped blessing.  A worthwhile and simple question for our consideration of “fruitfully multiplying” would be “How many people were on the planet at this point?” The answer: 2.

The next time we find God delivering the “Be fruitful and multiply” mandate is in Genesis 9:1.  Noah and his family, by God’s grace, had been spared from the Great Flood that destroyed all other life on the planet.  When he and his family and all of the animals stepped off of the ark, Noah built an altar of thankfulness, God promised through the sign of the rainbow that he would never do this again to the world, and God once again said, “Be fruitful and increase in number.” This time, the number of humans on the planet was 8 (Noah, wife, 3 sons, their wives).  Again, there was plenty of unoccupied space and untapped resources.

The third and final time that God gives this command is found in Genesis 35:11.  God had just changed Jacob’s name to Israel and informs Israel that through him God is going to produce his nation.  And God said to him, “I am God Almighty ; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body.  The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” God is starting the nation of his chosen people in the Old Testament – the covenant nation – the Israelites.  They are going to fill the land that God had promised to them and the Savior would come through this family.

What you see on the three occasions where God presents the command to “be fruitful and multiply” are three fairly specific situations.  On one occasion, there’s only 2 people on the planet.  On the next, only 8 people.  On the last, God is desiring to turn a family into his chosen nation of people and fill the land designated for them.  To take these commands out of their original context and say this is God’s divine baby-making mandate would be a little like ripping out of context Scriptural passages where God commands the Children of Israel to enter the Promised Land by force and destroy everyone and everything in it (e.g. Deut. 7:1-2; 20:16) and using these verses to promote global imperialism.

Careful Bible students can neither ignore the words God’s speaks nor the situations that prompt him to speak them.

At the same time, while we grasp the circumstances of God’s comments, we look to generate principles on the basis of his comments throughout Scripture.  I would very much hesitate to use the phrase “be fruitful and multiply” to say that God demands children (and many of them) from us.  But I would certainly include these passages in an enormous list of Bible references that establish the biblical principle that children are tremendous blessings from God.

It’s fascinating to me that children are one of the few things in life that almost everyone who experiences them has exactly the same opinion on – when commenting on their children, most parents will say they “wouldn’t trade them for anything” or “They’re the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.” Do you know how rare it is to have the unbelieving and believing communities universally agree on something?  On this issue, almost everyone seems to be on the same page, i.e. children are a great gift.  Clearly this is an obvious blessing from God.

Going back to the article that was sent to me……the point that many couples today willfully choose not to have children simply because they see them as obstacles to obtaining more material things is a worthwhile point to make.  It’s true that some couples who struggle with worldliness indeed do this.  The ones they are finally cheating, though, is themselves.  In the end, finding joy in things rather than people is going to lead to a very lonely and painful existence.  You won’t kiss a nice car goodnight.  You won’t get visited by a lavish vacation in your old age.  Those luxuries are enjoyable blessings, but they pale in comparison to true loving relationship.

Christians will see procreation not as a duty to fulfill, but as a chance to receive one of the greatest blessings that God grants to couples.  And, as in many areas of our lives, God has blessed us with freedom in our choices.  In the same way that the Apostle Paul freely chose to not get married, despite marriage clearly being a God-given blessing for humans (one that is also an essential step in God-pleasing procreation), couples may freely make decisions regarding the number of children that they have.  Whether those decisions are motivated by selfish reasons or God-glorifying ones, only God knows and only God judges.  And a Christian, searching his/her own heart regarding their motivation for anything in life, is going to ask their merciful God’s forgiveness for any and every impurity.  And they, as God’s children, will know that he freely grants it in Christ.

ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS: upon the posting of this article, I’ve had the opportunity for several good conversations on the issue.  One misunderstanding I guess I’d like to clear up would be this – I do believe (because there is plenty of biblical evidence) that it is God’s continued general will for mankind (particularly Christians) to procreate.  My particular slant on the article was that although there are plenty of selfish reasons to not have (any or more) children, the issue of selfishness needs to be handled with Law, while God’s blessing of children is more accurately understood with statements of Gospel.  Consequently, “be fruitful and multiply”, originally spoken before the fall, is probably not best used as motivation for a selfish world to have children, as it has sometimes been used.  Rather, it is a statement from which God intends to bring blessing.  In that sense, it’s no more of a law than Christ’s gospel exhortation to “Go into the world and preach the good news to all Creation….”.  Hopefully that makes sense and clears up any confusion.  If not, comment away.

“I Can’t Believe You Just Said That”

Their rudeness might inconvenience you. But it's not your problem, so don't emotionally invest in it.

Humans are emotional creatures + Humans are egocentric creatures = Humans often get their feelings hurt.  It’s a pretty simple formula.

The fact that we are emotional shouldn’t bother us.  Sometimes we tend to think so since they can occasional cloud good judgment, but emotions are not bad.  God created emotive creatures so that we have an added dimension to our love, compassion, understanding, empathy, etc.  Relationally, this makes us inherently superior to any of his other creatures.

The fact that we are egocentric doesn’t have to be as bad as it sounds, because it too is somewhat natural.  It isn’t wrong to care for yourself.  Taking care of your body, taking care of your mental health, taking care of your own spiritual life are all part of God’s intention for us to be good managers of the most individually specific blessings he’s entrusted to us.

However, when emotions run out of check (to the expense of logic) and when self concern runs out of check (to the extent of thoughtlessness regarding others), we ALWAYS end up unhappy.  There’s no chance of sadness not happening at that point.  Our feelings will get hurt.

Typically speaking, we don’t get hurt by others because of physical violence.  For example, I’m sure it would hurt if people were regularly punching me in the face, but it doesn’t happen often, so it’s not a regular source of pain.  It’s a little more common to be hurt by someone’s actions in general.  For instance, not getting invited to someone’s birthday party or not being asked to be in a friend’s wedding might cause you to value yourself less.  But even this pales in comparison to the greatest source of hurt that comes from others in our lives: WORDS.

In chapter 3 of his New Testament letter, James writes, “the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:5-6).  Now this article is not about correcting the words that come out of our mouths.  I’ve thought many times about such an article on  what Christian tactfulness means, but this is not it.  Rather, I include this passage simply as an indicator of the damage that words can bring in general.  A simple spark can lead to a great fire.  One simple word against us can bring a world of hurt and negative self-image for a lifetime.

I’ve had the opportunity to be in several positions in my life where the position itself lent itself towards unkind words.  The most prevalent situation for this was working part-time as an over-the-phone bill collector while finishing my seminary studies.  The intensity of the bill collections we were in was a little escalated because we weren’t just calling people to tell them they were behind on a car or appliance bill.  Rather, it was collections for direct sales.  In many cases the salesperson had completely neglected to tell the customer of any interest on the purchase, assuming (or not caring) that all customers would read the fine print on the contract.  So when I called customers to let them know they were late on the payments for their $3000 vacuum cleaner and then had to explain that their interest was 20% (so high that the payments they had been making were barely covering the interest) I literally received several threats on my life.  One gentleman from Alabama launched into a 20 minute verbal tirade that contained several expletives I’d never even heard of before, perhaps even inventing some on the spot, told me that he was going to drive up to Milwaukee to show me how angry he was.  I politely responded that if we just took the several hundred dollars in gas it’d take to get here and applied it to the last three months of past due payments on his pots & pans, we wouldn’t have to have this conversation any more.  He hung up.

My wife, who works for Verizon Wireless, gets to deal with disgruntled customers all the time.  She’s learned what I learned in bill collections – to disassociate people’s rude words and ridiculous attitudes from any personal connection to me.  These are people with unrealistic expectations who are pulling out their hair over frustrations with the latest phone that they never bothered to research.  They often unfairly try to take their frustration out on her.  She didn’t design the phone.  She didn’t assemble this particular phone.  She is not a cell phone tower standing out in a field somewhere consciously dropping people’s calls.  She did not force this person to buy this phone or sign a contract for this plan.  Nonetheless, the ugly truth is that as destructive as we humans are, when we’re frustrated, we often take it out on animate objects because when we’re in pain, we want to see others suffer.

It’s true that words are perhaps the world’s greatest cause for hurt.  It’s true that I simply can’t control what comes out of everyone else’s mouth or how they treat me.  So how do I eliminate the hurt?  Here’s the secret: There are 2 ends to every line of communication.  I can’t control what comes in.  But I can control how that message is received.  I can choose to not let it affect me.  The way someone else treats me does not have to make me feel any way that I don’t want to feel.

A number of years ago I read a book on the wisdom of the Toltecs.  The Toltecs were a people believed to be the intellectual and cultural predecessors of the Aztecs.  According to the book, the wise sages of the Toltecs advocated 4 principles to happiness in life.  One of those principles in particular has helped me enormously: “Don’t Take Things So Personally”.  Whenever someone says something unloving or unkind to you, it could be for a million different reasons, most of which have nothing to do with you.  They might have lost their job that day.  They might have gained a couple of pounds recently.  Their kids might be in a lot of trouble at school.  The general rule is that when someone says something hurtful, it’s because they themselves are hurting.  The most critical people in the world are typically those who don’t always like themselves very much.  Feel sorry for them that they’re hurting so much, but don’t be affected by them.  They don’t have that power over you.

Someone might say at this point, Toltec wisdom coming from a Christian pastor?  Is this kosher? (not to add to the religious confusion)  Interestingly, there’s often truth found in other religions that directly points back to the final authoritative wisdom literature, the Bible.  I remember reading that chapter of the Toltec book and thinking this “not taking things so personally” idea was a profound revelation.  And it truly has made me a much happier person.  However, the more I thought about it, the more it sounded very familiar.  Let me share with you something from my Lutheran Catechism:

“We should fear and love God that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, or give him a bad name, but defend him, speak well of him, and take his words and actions in the kindest possible way.”  (Luther’s Small Catechism, Explanation to the Eighth Commandment).

There it was all along.  Not getting unnecessarily hurt or overly offended at someone’s unkind words or actions toward you is a completely biblical (and therefore Lutheran) principle.

Further evidence of its biblical nature comes at the climax of Scripture, our Savior’s crucifixion.  While being taunted while on the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Now in this case, the attack certainly was personal.  But the point remains, it wasn’t because of any flaw in the one being criticized, but rather in those doing the criticizing.  Jesus had a thorough understanding that these were people acting in foolishness.  He hurt for them, not because of their words.

Jesus was ready, willing, and able (and did) forgive those who were unloving to him.  He loved them enough to even pay for their (our) sins.  He knew full well how destructive and cruel and rude people really are.  But he kept his sanity in this life while dealing with many frustrating people and he awaited the peace of the next life.

Consciously make a decision to be “under-affected” by people’s unkind words.  Many times they have nothing to do with you.  Even if they do, you can’t let it bother you too much.  What matters to a Christian is whether or not I’m right with God.  Because my Redeemer lives, I know I’m right with God.  The world can’t bring me down with it.

Lutherans & Homosexuality (Part 5 of 5)

Dr. Francis Collins, head of the National Genome Project at the National Institutes of Health, is a Christian. In his book The Language of God, Collins suggests that when you look at identical twins (who consequently have identical DNA), if one of the twins claims to be exclusively gay, the other only has a 20% chance of being homosexual also. Although this chance is higher than average, it’d seemingly speak against the argument of homosexuality being only “genetic” and not a choice.

Imagine giving a cymbal to a three-year-old.  Oh, he’d love it!  You, however, might lose your sanity as that child went around your home: CRASH! CLANG! CRASH! It would be very obnoxious.  However, put that cymbal into the middle of the right song and it adds enormously to the impact: “And the rocket’s red glare – CRASH! – the bombs bursting in air – CRASH!” Powerful.

So it is with any truth of God’s Word.  Used correctly and applied appropriately, any truth can be beautiful.  Used incorrectly and inappropriately, and any truth of God’s Word can come across as… well… just annoying.  Paul writes: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 1:13).

I fear that many Christians have come across a little gong-ish and cymbal-like when it comes to the topic of homosexuality.  To only rail against the immorality of homosexuality is to accomplish absolutely nothing.  You proclaim what everyone, including the homosexual, already knows deep down inside.  They might try and suppress the conscience, but it’s still there.

What God says about his will for human sexuality is Law.  The ultimate goal of all God’s Law is to lead us to Christ.  It’s like the spokes on a bike-wheel.  They all go to the center… all tie into the axle.  Likewise, all Law is intended to show me my sin, and thus, demonstrate my need for a Savior.  The Law shows why Christ must be at the center of my life.  I need what only he can give!

So it is with God’s condemnation of homosexuality.  The main purpose is not to get people to cease homosexual behavior.  That changes nothing.  For there will be plenty of heterosexuals found lacking on the Day of Judgment!  So ceasing homosexual behavior is the secondary goal of God’s Law. But the main purpose of God’s condemnation of homosexuality is to cause the one guilty of such sins to flee to the grace and mercy that is found in Christ.  Paul also writes: “Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).  “Speaking the truth in love” doesn’t simply mean we say things politely.  It means we speak the truth with the goal of having people “grow into… Christ.”

So now, let’s apply this to the topic of homosexuality.  How would we speak the truth in love to someone struggling with this sin?

We tell the truth that homosexuality is not, under any circumstances, acceptable.  It is contrary for God’s plan that family would consist of one man and one woman united in marriage.  Moreover, we state the truth that those who reject God’s Law do so at the risk of their eternal soul.  This is true whether one rejects what God says about homosexuality… or gossip… or divorce.  To rebel against God’s Law it to declare war on the Creator.  It’s a war that cannot be won.

We confess the truth that we are just as guilty of sexual sin as any homosexual.  My heterosexual sin of lust might not disgust you as much as two men making out, but to our holy God, both are grotesque.  This demonstrates that the message we share is not done with a spirit of self-righteousness or a better-than-thou attitude. Rather, we are simply trying to share a medicine for a disease which affects every man and woman, straight or gay – sin.

We proclaim the truth that in Christ, God reconciled the world to himself. Jesus has made full payment for all sin.  The truth is that if a homosexual is struggling against his sin, even though others might still condemn him, Jesus doesn’t.  Instead, Jesus proudly calls that person “brother” or “sister.”

We comfort with the truth when one is saved, that does not mean sin disappears entirely.  The repentant homosexual might still struggle with temptation, just as I constantly struggle with my temper or my pride.  Yet through faith in Christ, the struggling sinner stands pure before God.

We encourage with the truth that in baptism Christ sends his Holy Spirit to live in us, so that just as Christ literally rose from the dead, we might live an entirely new life.  Thus, there is hope for the homosexual that change can be made.  There are hundreds of thousands of homosexuals who eventually became heterosexual.  They still aren’t perfect.  And they don’t have to be, for Christ is perfect for them.  In gratitude to their Savior, they seize upon the Spirit’s strengthening, and they struggle to live as Christ has called them to live.  That’s a beautiful thing.

Jesus said, “The truth will set you free” (John 8:32).

It will.

So speak the truth.

Speak it in love.

By Jonathan Hein
Pastor, Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS)

Lutherans & Homosexuality (Part 4 of 5)

Plenty of good literature exists for those who experience temptation but don't want to live the homosexual lifestyle.

In debate class you learn to recognize a slippery slope argument.  The slippery slope argument states that some small first step will inevitably have some monumental impact, much like pushing an object over the edge of a slope will cause that object to slide all the way to the bottom.  For example, Mr. Fuddy argues, “We shouldn’t let our kids go to dances.  If a boy and girl dance together, they’re going to have sex too!” Can dancing provide temptation?  Sure, especially the way some people dance today.  But does it inevitably lead to sexual immortality?  No.  In debate class, Mr. Fuddy’s statement would be called illogical and dismissed on the grounds of being a slippery slope argument.

Here’s a premise that some might call a slippery slope argument. If you reject one teaching of God’s Word, you will eventually reject all of it. Some might say, “Nooooo! You can reject ‘minor’ portions of God’s Word and still hang onto the fundamental message of Christ.” First of all, I’d like to debate whether anything God tells us can ever be called “minor.” But secondly, I’d stand by my premise. Church history has demonstrated that premise to be true, again and

Take the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) recent declaration that the church should work towards allowing openly homosexual men and women to serve as public ministers.  That is a clear departure from the Word of God’s teaching about homosexuality, as well as it’s teaching about qualifications for public ministers.  However, it is not suprising.

The ELCA has been walking away from the authority of Scriptures for quite some time now.  It began almost a century ago.  With the rise of Darwinism, Genesis 1 and 2, which teach that God created the world in six 24-hour days, began to be scrutinized.  ELCA bought whole-heartedly into this higher-critical method of studying Scripture.  But they are by no means alone! Today, many Christians accept that the world is billions and billions of years old as “fact.”  “Carbon dating tells us this rock is a million years old!” So what?  When Adam was a second old, he looked like a grown man.  On the sixth day of creation when God created the oak tree, had you cut one down and counted the rings it would have appeared to have been centuries old. God not only created the stars.  He created stars that had already gone supernova and were just now streams of light that had the appearnce of being eons old.  In other words, God created the universe with an ancient appearance. The church had accepted that fact for centuries.  But, in the early 20th century, some decided they now knew better than the only One who was actually around to witness Creation.  And so they ripped out the pages of Genesis 1 and 2 (or at least, claimed it was story rather than history).

So ELCA’s new stance on homosexuality was fairly easy to see coming.  If it was so easy to toss aside what God’s Word says about the Creation of all things, was it not just a matter of time before God’s teachings on sexuality were tossed out too?

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  Scripture teaches that humans are human from the moment of conception (Psalm 51:5), and yet the ELCA Social Statements teach that abortion is permissible in certain circumstances, and includes fetal abnormalities among them.*1

Even Christ is under attack in the ELCA.  One widely used ELCA theological textbook, Christian Dogmatics by Carl E. Braatten, states, “The preexistence of Christ is an integral part of the myth of the incarnation”*2 (emphasis mine).  He calls the incarnation myth!  The same book goes onto explain that the physical resurrection of Christ is not an absolute certainty.  (Follow this link, from the ELCA’s “What We Believe” portion of their website, if you want to cry.  It is the worst possible “explanation” of the resurrection – ).  We are no longer talking “minor” points of doctrine!  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (15:14).  Deny the resurrection, and you’re more of a cult than a church.

Many ELCA clergy deny the reality of anything miraculous in Scripture.  The Flood, Jesus’ miracles, etc. – They would say these are all just myths and fables.  The Bible is a buffet from which you can choose what you like and dismiss what you don’t.  It’s really just a form of idolatry, trying to invent one’s own personal religion.

Those same clergy would probably call me closed minded for my belief that all of Scripture – every book, paragraph, and sentence – is what it claims to be: the very Word of God.  And that’s fine. Call me close minded.  But what you can’t call me is illogical for suggesting that if you reject one teaching of God’s Word, you’ll eventually reject all if it.  The ELCA is the latest case-study in church history to prove that to be very, very true.

By Jonathan Hein
Pastor, Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS)

*2 Page 545

Lutherans & Homosexuality (parts 2&3 of 5)

In a presentation at the Annual Conference the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Pierre J. Tremblay recently noted that males who consider themselves "gay" are 3 or 4 more times more likely to commit suicide.

Lutheranism & homosexuality part 2 of 5

Person A loves to talk bad about others.  It makes him feel better about himself.  So he spreads rumors – some true, others false – about those he doesn’t like.  He tells his neighbor on his right that he’s worried that the neighbor on the left might drink too much.  He talks about his co-workers marriage problems with other co-workers.

Person B has long wrestled with being homosexual. She knows the Bible says it goes against God’s will.  She’s prayed for God’s help in resisting her urges.  She’s even talked to a trusted Christian friend for advice. Still, she occasionally lapses.  When she does, she’s heartbroken.  She prays to her Savior for forgiveness and strength.

Who is the child of God, person A or person B?

A true Lutheran would answer person B. When Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Castle Church door in Wittenburg, effectively beginning the Lutheran Reformation, the very first one read: “When our Lord and Master,Jesus Christ, said ‘Repent’, he called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” The entire life. In other words, God’s examination of our lives doesn’t just focus on one aspect – our sexual lives, for example.  God’s Law measures everything – the way we talk, the way we think, even our attitudes.

Sometimes, people criticize Bible-based Christians of “picking on homosexuality,” treating it as if it were worse than other sins.  And sometimes, those critics would be right! I’ve heard people talk about homosexuality as though it were the unforgivable sin.  That is a human reaction to personal revulsion of one particular sin. But our holy God’s reaction is to be equally repulsed by all sin.  Consider 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Notice how that verse puts Person A (the “slanderer”) and Person B (the “homosexual offender”) in the same boat. Neither has lived up to the high standard – namely perfection – that God has set for his Creation.  “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” Jesus said (Matthew 5:48).  Therefore, both person A and person B need saving from their sin.

So how are we saved?  Christ!  Jesus died to make atonement for all sin (1 John 1:7).  His blood washes away the guilt of slander and homosexuality equally well.  The benefits of Christ work are received through faith. But faith is not just saying, “I believe in Jesus!” Even the demons believe in Jesus.  Faith is a God-given gift, that totally changes our outlook on everything, including our sin. True faith leads me to love that which God loves, and to hate that which God hates.  My temper, my slander, my pride, my lust – I hate these things, because God hates them. Thus, repentance and faith are in essence synonymous.  For if one has genuine faith, he will naturally repent of all that which offends our saving God. We often talk about “fruits of faith.”  Well, John the Baptist talked about “producing fruit in keeping with repentance” too (Matthew 3:8).

In our illustration, person A might call himself a Christian.  But the ease with which he slips into slander, a sin which Christ had to bleed for, makes his faith appear paper thin.  He might be kidding himself by calling himself a Christian.  “Faith, if not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17). There is no repentance of his slander.  How, then, can there be true faith?  But person B… she is fighting the good fight, isn’t she? She is trying to resist the impulses of her sinful nature. When she fails, she runs to Him who is our Righteousness.  She basks in the forgiveness that Christ offers. With his help,she begins the struggle anew tomorrow.  Her entire life is one of repentance…one of faith… just like Dr. Luther said.

When we, as Bible-based Lutherans, express our distress over the in name-only “Lutherans” in the ELCA saying that homosexuality is OK,please realize it is not because we consider the sin of homosexuality worse than other sins.  If you do, take the plank out of your own eye before you start picking at the speck in others’! Rather, we areconcerned because, again, repentance and faith are synonymous.  By teaching that homosexuality is not a sin, the ELCA has turned person B into… well… person A, one who does not take his sin seriously.  And that’s not healthy, to say the least. Because repentance is required for all sin.

By Jonathan Hein
Pastor, Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS)

Lutheranism & homosexuality part 3 of 5

Nature vs. Nurture.  Developmental psychologists love to argue this one back and forth on all sorts of issues.  If a child is exceptionally smart, is it because he inherited a “smart gene” from his parents?  Is it because his parents read to him for countless hours when he was young? Or is it a combination of both those factors?  It’s hard to say.

There has been a lot of research into whether homosexuality is learned behavior (nurture) or whether people can be born with a predisposition towards it (nature). Studies have looked at brain chemistry and makeup, trying to see if there are physiological differences between a homosexual and heterosexual.  One interesting recent study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, found that “Gay men and heterosexual women had halves of a similar size, while the right side was bigger in lesbian women and heterosexual men.  A UK scientist said this was evidence sexual orientation was set in the womb.” However, to be fair, you can find other scientists which say that this is all non-sense, and that sexuality is learned behavior.

What do you think? I honestly have no clue – no idea whether homosexuality lies more in nature or nurture. And as a theologian, I don’t worry about the fact that I don’t know. Because it doesn’t matter.

Ever since the fall into sin, reproduction has been tainted. Jesus himself said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh” (John 3:6). The Greek word for flesh – sarx – is pejorative. It brings to mind tainted flesh… weak flesh… yes, sinful flesh.  Because Adam and Eve fell into sin and lost the image of God, they could not give birth to holy, perfect children.  And so, Cain kills Abel.  Murder takes one generation to appear on earth after the introduction of sin!

Sin ruined everything about the reproductive process.  Not only are children born with the ability to feel things God never intended humans to feel – hate, greed, envy, pride, etc. – but there are physical abnormalities. God created Adam and Eve with ten fingers and toes.  That is not always the case with Adam and Eve’s offspring, is it?  Babies are born with a host of physical deformities, none of which God ever intended to be part of his Creation.

Those abnormalities are not an excuse to sin.  Take alcoholism.  Scientists will tell you people can have genetic predispositions to alcoholism.  (There seems to be a lot more consensus on that in the scientific community than there is about homosexuality!)  If I am born with a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, that does not excuse me for becoming an alcoholic.

Say I am born without working legs… or born blind… or born with spina bifida.  With any of those, I am going to face extra challenges that others, born without those defects, will not have to face.  That does not give me the right to grow bitter. It does not give me permission to be angry with God.  Because finally, while human life is always God’s creation, human defects never are.  They are simply flesh giving birth to flesh.

Likewise, if homosexuality is indeed caused in part or in whole by brain physiology, that does not give one permission to ignore or defy what God has revealed in his Word.  He forbids homosexuality.  That pretty much settles it, no matter if it’s the result of nature or nuture.

We need to look at challenging physiological developments as an opportunity.  If I did indeed have a predisposition to alcoholism, God can turn that into a blessing. For if, in spite of that curse, I can with Christ’s help resist the temptation to succumb to alcoholism, what a testimony to the power of God!  It proves what Paul wrote: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength!” (Philippians 4:13).  Likewise, if a person has a brain physiology which inclines them to be attracted to the same-sex, yet they still struggle against that inclination, what a powerful testimony of their love for God and his Word.

Finally, we also need to remember that while we came into this world with flawed and frail human flesh, it will not always be so. Scripture promises us that in the resurrection on the Last Day, our bodies will be made perfect. Read 1 Corinthians 15 today.  It’s chocked full of gorgeous promises.  The blind will see.  The lame will walk. Those who had a weak heart in this life will have a heart that never skips a beat again. And if indeed there are those who have brain physiology or chemistry that is not as God intended, God will take care of that in the resurrection too. To him be praise!

By Jonathan Hein
Pastor, Beautiful Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELS)