One of the main areas where Christianity seems strange, even oppressive, to our culture is the area of sexuality.
At one point, Christians could discuss what Scripture teaches about sexuality and few people would be surprised. More recently, the gap between what Scripture teaches culture believes about sex has grown. Scripture’s teachings are now viewed as dangerous, possibly even illegal.
Many churches have responded by staying away from controversial issues that highlight that gap. The gap, however, can’t be avoided. The more that culture pushes a progressive view of sexuality, the more churches will need to communicate a biblical ethic with clarity and sensitivity.
I’m convinced that we need to speak to the issue of sexuality with two voices. In both cases, the content of what we say remains the same, but how we say it must change. We can’t afford to confuse one with the other.
Speaking to Culture
In his book What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? Kevin DeYoung writes, “How ought we to speak about homosexuality? Should we be defiant and defensive or gentle and entreating? Yes and yes. It depends on who is listening.”
DeYoung offers examples, including this one: “If we are speaking to cultural elites who despise us and our beliefs, we want to be bold and courageous.”
In other words, to live in our culture today means that we rediscover the courage that marked the apostles in Acts. We shouldn’t go looking for trouble, but neither should we shy away from taking a bold stand for biblical truth even when it costs.
A couple of years ago, I spoke to a friend about what ministry would look like in Canada over the next decade. My friend surprised me. “You probably won’t make it to the end of your ministry without going to jail!” I don’t consider him to be pessimistic or alarmist by nature. Whether or not he’s right, it’s true that the threat of criminal charges and imprisonment is at least a possibility for simply teaching what Scripture does about sexuality.
If and when this happens, we must speak with clarity and courage. As we preach Scripture, we must preach what the text says, protect God’s people from error, and, as DeYoung says, “confront the world when it tries to press us into its mold.”
Speaking to Strugglers
But we also need a second voice. DeYoung continues, “If we are speaking to strugglers who fight against same-sex attraction, we want to be patient and sympathetic. If we are speaking to sufferers who have been mistreated by the church, we want to be winsome and humble. If we are speaking to shaky Christians who seem ready to compromise the faith for society’s approval, we want to be persuasive and persistent. If we are speaking to those who are living as the Scriptures would not have them live, we want to be straightforward and earnest.”
In other words, we also need a second voice, speaking good news to sinners. After all, we speak as sinners who ourselves have found that good news. We must welcome sinners as Christ did during his earthly ministry — in fact, as he has welcomed us. We must know when to speak with a voice of courage and boldness, but we must also know how to speak with a voice of compassion and grace.
May the Lord give us the courage and wisdom to know when to speak with the voice that’s appropriate for the audience, and the courage to withstand the cultural currents of our day.