It’s not a matter of if your church and pastor will face these kinds of questions. It’s a matter of when.
Here’s a scenario: a same-sex couple or someone openly living in a same-sex relationship starts to attend your church. Maybe they’ve got a child from another relationship or a child conceived through IVF. Because your church practices infant baptism, they ask to have their child baptized. What do you do?
I recently heard of a church that faced this exact situation. A lesbian couple who’d been attending asked to have their child baptized. The church had theological convictions about sex and marriage, as well as about how, in their theological tradition, infant baptism was offered based on the faith and obedience of parents. The pastor, however, chose to go through with the baptism, in order to “show love to the child and her parents.” Was this pastor right?
Now let me be clear. This commentary isn’t about the correct theology of baptism. Many of you attend churches that practice what’s called believer’s baptism, unlike this particular church.
My concern here is the argument the pastor made, especially given how quickly situations like this are becoming common. According to this pastor, love not only meant including those who are in unrepentant sin as members of the church, but also allowing them to partake in the sacraments. These sorts of situations are coming to a church near you.
Baptist brothers and sisters, here’s one that you might face: If a gay couple wanted to join your church and take communion, would it be a loving thing to tell them yes?
The answer is no. Let me explain.
It’s not because a gay couple or their child are somehow too sinful or tainted to be forgiven. After all, baptism is a visual picture of Christ washing away our sins. Christ welcomes sinners to His table. If He only welcomed the righteous, none of us could participate, “no, not one.”
But as Tim Keller often points out, the world is not divided into sinners and saints, but repentant and unrepentant sinners. The prerequisite for joining the family of God isn’t to clean yourself up, but to allow Jesus to clean you up. That means turning from sins, not clinging to them.
Jesus Himself told the Pharisees He’d come to call sinners, not the righteous, to repentance. He wasn’t saying the Pharisees were righteous, but that only those who knew they were sinners could receive the gift of repentance and forgiveness.
Those who won’t repent, refuse the gift. As C. S. Lewis explains in “Mere Christianity,” repentance is not something God requires of us before He takes us back. “It is simply a description of what going back to Him is like.”
Thus telling those who hold on to sin that they have the gift from God isn’t loving, because it isn’t true. The Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians that those who eat and drink the Lord’s Supper in an “unworthy manner” eat and drink judgment on themselves. “But what about lying, gossip, or any of the other sins,” you might ask. Exactly. Unrepentant sin of any kind is a problem.
But, of course, this requires a correct understanding of sin, of the church, and of Christ’s sacraments. To simply try to love people into the Kingdom without truth isn’t love at all, it’s sentimentality. The truth remains that homosexual acts are sinful. They twist God’s created design. All who come to Christ for cleansing must be willing to repent. And all who repent are embraced by Christ, and then ought to be embraced by the church, including at His table and in His sacraments. But only after repentance, not before.
It may feel more loving to do what the pastor that I mentioned earlier did. We want the church to be a welcoming place where people can encounter Jesus. Every church should welcome sinners. (My church does it every time I walk through the door.) But truly loving people means telling the truth.
Every single church today needs to be ready for these difficult situations. Again, it’s not a matter of if they’ll happen, but when.
— by John Stonestreet
Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2018 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.