Whenever Christians are engaged in difficult discernment decisions there is always the risk for error. We are always going to make discernment mistakes, misjudging the will of God. It’s just a fact of life.
For example, maybe extending the sacrament of marriage to gay couples will prove to be a mistake. But my church allows women to teach adult Sunday School classes and lead communion thoughts (mere baby steps on the road toward egalitarianism). Maybe we’re wrong about allowing women to do these things. Maybe women should “remain silent” as they are in most of our churches. More, some churches suppress charismatic displays like speaking in tongues. But maybe these churches are wrong in this and are grieving the Holy Spirit. Some churches baptize infants. And maybe they are wrong about that.
Or maybe right.
The point is, everybody is likely to be wrong about something. Unfortunately, we don’t know what these errors are. And since people tend to be stupid and pigheaded (with me as chief of sinners) there is little chance that we’ll sort all this out before we’re dead.
So here is where one’s view of God comes into play. Given the ubiquity of error how do we think God is going to respond to our mistakes? With wrath and hellfire? Or with grace, good humor and understanding?
In my last post I floated an idea about discerning the holiness of same-sex marriages. Here’s what that experiment would look like:
A local church finds within her members a group of people who feel called by the Holy Spirit to extend the sacrament of marriage to the same-sex couples within their midst. The leaders of the church, understandably, are unsure about this (think Acts 15) so they lay hands upon the “Paul and Barnabas” of this effort to start a satellite church that would welcome same-sex marriages.
Importantly, this new church isn’t a “gay church.” It’s simply a church that welcomes both traditional and same-sex marriages, treating them identically. The same pre-marital counseling, the same young married classes, the same young family classes, the same marriage counseling if the marriage struggles. Same everything. Marriages, families, and single people all in community together.
After many years the sponsoring church feels that it is time to step in to make some discernment decisions. It’s the equivalent of Paul and Barnabas coming back from years of ministry amongst the Gentiles to testify to the Jewish Christians about how the Holy Spirit has been active in their ministry. Many stories will be told. Many testimonies given. A great deal of prayer. And, ultimately, the sponsoring church will have to decide if they will extend the right hand of fellowship.
Let’s say they do extend fellowship and grant the sacrament of marriage to same-sex couples. And let's also assume that they are wrong in doing this, that God disapproves of their actions. What is God going to say to these church leaders on Judgment Day? In the voice of God, here’s my best guess:
First off, dear children, know that I love you. And although you disappointed me greatly at times your heart was in the right place. You are good people. And that’s what matters most.
But you did get it wrong by sponsoring that church. My plan, and I thought this was quite clear, was only for men and women to marry. I consider homosexuality to be a sin. So I’m very disappointed in you.
However, let me commend you in this:
First, I can understand how you could have talked yourself into these actions. You were trying to be like Jesus and love people extravagantly and recklessly. You were, you now know, a little too reckless. But I can’t fault you too much for loving so extravagantly. You were just trying to follow my example. In the end, if you had to make a mistake loving too much is the best mistake to make.
Second, we both know that the Bible is no easy book. I am aware that the Bible isn’t totally transparent. The Old Testament has some strange stuff in it and it doesn’t always seem to jibe with the New. Plus, you were living in 2010 and your distance from the bible made it even harder on you. It was difficult, I know, for you to sort ancient cultural mores and prejudices from the timeless truths. In short, it was a tough task, getting tougher every year, and you did the best you could.
Third, I appreciate you trying so hard to repair the damage of hate coming from people who call themselves “Christians.” Like those people who carry “God hates fags” signs. To be clear, I’m angry at you, but my wrath is full to overflowing when it comes to those people. So I can understand your great desire to “make up” for their hate and bile. But it wasn’t your job to fix that mess and you went too far. However, I’m touched that you tried to protect my reputation. You overreached, but your hearts were pure.
Fourth, although I consider same-sex marriages to be a sin, I appreciate how much good you did in these relationships. By preaching agape and fidelity you placed covenant at the center of your witness regarding marriage. And although I was not pleased with these marriages there was true love in them, deep sacrificial love. And this love was a real participation in my love, however fallen it might have been. By preaching fidelity in a world of promiscuity and failed promises you did great good and prevented much evil and harm.
All in all, I know your heart was in the right place. You tried to love people. And you did your best.
I’d give you a C minus.
But grades don’t matter here.
Welcome home, my good and faithful servant!