An open letter to the saints in Jesus Christ at First Baptist of Zeeland, Michigan

1 Peter 4:12-17 says,
"Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; 13 but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. 14 If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters. 16 Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.
17 For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?"

Did you ever imagine protesters outside your church on a Sunday morning - in Zeeland, Michigan?

I've driven by your church dozens of times, a former boss attended years ago, and I now have family that worship with you, but otherwise I don't know you personally.  I live hundreds of miles away.  Something moved me to put some thoughts down, though, for you or for others who will face similar situations in the future.

Expect such hostility.
Matthew 10:22-26 - “You will be hated by all for My name’s sake.... 24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25 It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! 26 Therefore do not fear them.

As 1 Peter 4 told us, the world will not leave us alone, just because we are nice.  This is not a horrifying event that signals the end is near.

Jesus wants you going through this.
See 1 Peter 4:14 again, above. Don't get thinking in your head, "What have we done or said to call the media down on us and put us in the spotlight?"  The answer is, you have spoken a truth that the world insists must be rejected.  Do not be discouraged.  Jesus was crucified, and we can't assume our lives should go better, much less that we be free from criticism and persecution.

Satan doesn't fight fair.
The media is focusing on 1-2 sentences from an hour long sermon, and wondering if you are all Westboro types, now.  Of course, as your pastor said, it's absurd to shape your identify so completely by a perversion like axe murdering or sodomy.  But we live in an absurd world now, where the bizarre will be vigorously defended.  The culture is moving to marginalize those with biblical views, rather than those who embrace perversion.  We are on the ropes, and need to be ready with an answer.

Beware half truths mixed with lies.
Notice adversaries and the media grab on to the axe murderer picture and ignore the point of the analogy made.

Half Truth One: Homosexuals are dangerous like axe murderers.
All sinners are dangerous, yes.  But some are more dangerous than others.  The comparison to an axe murderer was unfortunate.  While technically true, it is a PR blunder.  The brief qualification that it is on a completely different field is undone by the structure of the pastor's argument.  He actually IS comparing them.

Half Truth Two: All sins are the same
In one sense, every sin deserves God's condemnation, and so the morally upright housewife who tells a little white lie to a friend is just as guilty as the most debauched homosexual.  In another sense, sins are more heinous than others, based on how much harm they do to others.  An axe murderer does more harm than someone with same sex feelings.  An aggressively recruiting homosexual predator can certainly wreck a lot of lives, I understand.  But it is an overstatement, on the surface.  A better analogy might be a thief who doesn't stop stealing, while claiming to have become a Christian.

Half Truth Three: All homosexuals are the same.  Or, You can be Christian and gay.
A key question the church is asking today is, How are we to view homosexuals?
Our uncertainty about this as a church, combined with the cultural full court press we're getting, is a recipe for disaster.  Axe murderer is the wrong answer to the question, and I don't think your pastor was answering that question that way.  But the point of the pastor's analogy is right:
  • If we define ourselves by the sins we decide aren't really sins, we are patently apostate and reject God's Word as an authority in our lives.  The church should not admit me as a member and I shouldn't claim to be Christ's follower.  This is NOT to say all homosexuals are like axe murderers.  Personally, I stand with First Baptist in proclaiming this to the world, just when the world is insisting that everyone must accept homosexual behavior and not call it sin or aberrant.  No.  We need a backbone at this point, on this issue, and First Baptist is showing it.  Good for them.  Sadly, many Christians will back away, accepting the media's distorted version of what First Baptist is saying.
  • If we struggle with same sex attraction, but believe God's Word that that attraction and the behavior it leads to are outside Gods design, just like attraction to a woman not my wife is, then I am not a danger to society or to the church, anymore than any other believer struggling with his sin is.  The church's message to the world often denies this category exists.  I think many conservatives wonder in their hearts if homosexuals are an inherent danger, because of the aggressiveness of the homosexual lobby we've watched beat us up for the last 10 years or so.  But most are not.  Much like Islam, we see the radically aggressive version of it on TV so much, we assume our Muslim neighbor must be a threat to society.  But they aren't.  They are wrong, and outside God's Kingdom.  But we should always be open to the possibility that God may convert an atheist, Muslim, homosexual, or our serially adulterous co-worker - and that He may use us to do so.

What do we do about church tomorrow morning?
Be there
Do not hide your children from this by staying away from church.  Tell them in a simple way that many people around us don't love Jesus.  They reject the truth our pastor preaches.  They are protesting God's Word.  We need to pray for them, that God would change them and help us know what to say to them.  This is probably a part of the broader church's outreach strategy that has been missing, that God is now graciously supplying to you.  Here they are in real life, on our doorstep, the people we must reach for Christ.

Give an answer, if you have it
This is the cultural engagement we are looking for.  It's time to give an answer.  Go and talk to the protesters tomorrow morning.  Meet their hostility with grace.  Absorb insults and screams, whether on signs or from people.  Listen to criticism and respond with grace and truth.  Think a few steps ahead before you go.  Know their argument, their concern from their point of view.  You may protest to them that they are slandering you by identifying you with Westboro.  They will counter that you slander them by comparing them to axe murderers.  What do you say next?  If you aren't sure, don't go, and leave it to others with the gift of apologetics and evangelism.

Worship God
Read the Psalms, which have an intense awareness of the presence of Christ's enemies.  Our worship as the American church has generally lacked that in recent years.  Give God the glory among the nations (Psalm 96).

Remember your brothers and sisters in Christ
In a very small way, you are facing a similar problem that the church in Myanmar, China, Syria and Niger has faced on Sundays for a long while.  "What will happen when we assemble for worship today?"  Will they shut us down?  Will they come in and interrupt the service?  In many ways, it is good for us to be shaken a bit, and not be so sure.

But we do know that God will be with us.  He will speak in His Word.  He will define right and wrong, repentance and apostasy from that Word.  He will promise His people the ultimate victory, whether we are chewed up by the beast here very soon like the 21 in Egypt, or whether we continue fighting unfaithfulness in our heart and family and world with relatively little outward hostility and opposition.

First Baptist Church, I will be praying for you, and will think of you as I preach on these verses tomorrow:
"Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. Let all that you do be done with love."
1 Corinthians 16:13-14

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous4:38 PM

    Thank you for this well thought out response.