Mercy vs. Acceptance
17 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.
18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.
19 So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tiny stroke of a letter in the law to become void.
Have heaven and earth passed away yet? Let me look out the window. Nope. Still there. So I guess the Law is still in effect. So much for liberal theology.
There is a huge difference between the set of all things immoral and all things illegal. At least there should be! Many religious conservatives intersect the sets too much by making too many things illegal. Theological liberals do the reverse: try to declare too many things to be moral.
Mercy need not be acceptance. It is possible to forgive a sin without condoning the behavior. The New Testament even spells out procedures for such:
15 "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother.
16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you, so that at the testimony of two or three witnesses every matter may be established.
17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. If he refuses to listen to the church, treat him like a Gentile or a tax collector.
21 Then Peter came to him and said, "Lord, how many times must I forgive my brother who sins against me? As many as seven times?"
22 Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, I tell you, but seventy-seven times!
3 Watch yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him. If he repents, forgive him.
4 Even if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times returns to you saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."
Let’s apply this procedure to the issue of the day: gay marriage. Someone who has homosexual impulses can become a Christian. And if we apply the procedure above, it is possible for that person to remain a Christian even after succumbing to such impulses – if repentant. Gay marriage is a clear act of unrepentance. This includes performing gay marriage ceremonies. If you don’t like it, take it up with the writers of the Bible.
(And yes, this does trouble me. Some people are born that way. Some of the sissies I went to elementary school with are now dead from AIDS. It seems unfair. But I can come up with some rationalizations. All Christians are tasked to override their impulses at times. A healthy heterosexual alpha male has strong territoriality, more difficulty being humble and turning the other cheek. In general, we are each given different combinations of primal impulses to override.)
I pick on homosexuals because this is the burning issue of the day. The same principle applies to heterosexuals who sleep around, mafia dons, business owners who operate on the Sabbath, doctors who perform abortions, or employers who cheat their employees.
The Church is supposed to be for “perfecting the saints,” for encouraging better behavior [Ephesians 4:12]. It does not exist to make people feel good after sinning.
An instance of this principle in action can be found in 1 Corinthians
1 Corinthians 5:
1 It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, the kind of immorality that is not permitted even among the Gentiles, so that someone is cohabiting with his father's wife.
2 And you are proud! Shouldn't you have been deeply sorrowful instead and removed the one who did this from among you?
4 When you gather together in the name of our Lord Jesus, and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of our Lord Jesus,
5 turn this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.
9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people.
10 In no way did I mean the immoral people of this world, or the greedy and swindlers and idolaters, since you would then have to go out of the world.
11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who calls himself a Christian who is sexually immoral, or greedy, or an idolater, or verbally abusive, or a drunkard, or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person.
12 For what do I have to do with judging those outside? Are you not to judge those inside?
13 But God will judge those outside. Remove the evil person from among you.
Here, we have a concrete example of expelling a Church member because of a sexual sin, one listed in Leviticus 18:8, the same chapter that condemns homosexuality [Leviticus 18:22]. Whether Paul called for prosecution or not is unclear. Verse 5 may be a call for prosecution. “Satan” may not be a proper noun here, but merely “the accuser”, as in, perhaps, the local prosecutor. Verse 1 indicates the offense as being illegal. But note that in verse 10, Paul says Christians can associate with the sexually immoral – as long as they don’t call themselves Christians. This indicates to me that at least some sexual sins were legal under Roman law at the time, and Paul was not complaining.
Christians should shun those who would call themselves Christians and be unrepentant sinners at the same time. The State, on the other hand, must judge those who are “outside.” What the State should deem legal should be broader than what the Church should deem acceptable. In my lifetime we have gone from homosexuality being illegal, to refusing to participate in a gay wedding being illegal. Sometimes I think the anarchists have a point…
Let me leave you with some harsher words yet on the subject from St. John. I am uncertain here, but it seems that John is saying you don’t even have to pray for those committing death penalty offenses.
1 John 5:
16 If anyone sees his fellow Christian committing a sin not resulting in death, he should ask, and God will grant life to the person who commits a sin not resulting in death. There is a sin resulting in death. I do not say that he should ask about that.
17 All unrighteousness is sin, but there is sin not resulting in death.