Contemplating The 7th & 9th Commandments
This is not an ‘adventure’ like many other posts here. Instead, it is an essay that is the result of years of meditation and prayer. It is not “complete” in that it will offer everyone a satisfactory answer. It should offer most of us a viewpoint that will help us find the answers we seek. Please read this with your heart open to the Holy Spirit. It’s just under 4000 words long. But don’t let that intimidate you. There really is something important here. I am posting it on Forever Stone because The Church has many denominations with differing and opposing views on these subjects. Forever Stone seeks to point the way toward Christian Unity. I do pray that this contemplation will help in that.
Many years ago I left the Body of Christ, The Church, because I could not understand why the people in it acted as they did. (I use “The Church” to mean the Universal Christian Church, the combination of all denominations.) Eventually, the Holy Spirit led me back to a group of people who worshiped “In His Name”. (That is another story…) But I always wondered if they really knew God. Was this group, who called themselves “Christian” really and truly people who knew God? They went by many names: Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Church of God, Assembly of God, Church of Christ, Quaker, Church of the Nazarene, Primitive Baptist…and…on and on. It made no sense to me that each group knew without doubt that they were “doing Christianity right” and all the other groups were wrong.
My return to The Church also returned me to the denomination of my parents: It made family relationships easier and so I was comfortable there. I already knew the ritual, what little bit of ritual there was. However, I did not see that this or any other denomination was doing things exactly the way God wanted them done. I could see problems in the liturgy that each denomination used. But I didn’t understand any of it until the Roe vs. Wade U. S. Supreme Court decision—and then not for many years.
Slowly, very slowly, I began to understand why the Court made that decision and why that case should never have been in the legal system at all. The Church, The Body of Christ, had failed. It had forgotten the Gospel—not all of it, just the ‘inconvenient’ parts. Not only did the Church completely misunderstand Chapter Eight of the Gospel of John (the worry was about what Jesus wrote in the sand); like the Pharisees in the next chapter, The Church was, apparently, quite blind. (John 9.)
Consider, please, the condition of an unmarried woman in the 1950’s or 1960’s who was pregnant. The Church treated her the way the Pharisees treated the woman in John 8. Even if the woman had been raped, somehow she should share in the blame. And it was BLAME! And Shame! The father was not blamed. He was merely doing what nature made him do. (More on this shortly. Also, rape is different: it was illegal and the man was imprisoned.) Oh, sure, if the father were known, he was asked to “do what’s right” and marry the woman. But he did not incur much in the way of social repercussions from the situation, especially if he were rich. In fact, for an adolescent, it “proved his manhood”. Women who were from wealthy families could obtain the services of a doctor who was willing to perform the necessary medical treatment to end the pregnancy. Thus the rich could avoid the social repercussions, while the poor, unable to buy their way out of the problem, were shamed.
That, of course, was the true problem: there was a double standard. And the Church, The Body of Christ, was content to let the situation stay as it was. Oh, of course, the preachers would sermonize on adultery. But rarely, very rarely, were these unfortunate women (and men) welcomed into the Church. The Church would ignore the situation if it could. Otherwise, the social stigma was applied.
(This contemplation is specifically concerned with The Church just prior to the Roe vs. Wade decision, and the aftermath. The above is a very much abridged depiction and it’s my memory of those times. Throughout history, women have not been treated by men as their equals. The Bible’s account of “The Fall” has been used to subjugate women. (Genesis 3) At first, The Christian Church did much to help the status of women. But The Church, to its shame, has also been subject to culture and politics.)
In the 1960’s, the rise of the “Hippie” movement brought much in the way of cultural and philosophical change. The philosophy of “free love” celebrated in movies, books, music and other media helped people change their opinion about many aspects of our culture. However, abortion was illegal. No honorable doctor would perform such a procedure. As a result, women were dying from the malpractice of abortion.
The government intervened, I believe, for two reasons. One was the increase in illegal abortions and the consequences of that malpractice; and that the rich could purchase safe abortions. The other was the social stigma that the rich could escape but the poor could not. Thus the Roe vs. Wade decision.
Even so, it took forty years (a Biblical number) for The Church to begin to find a true, Gospel based, Biblical solution to the situation. The first reaction of the Christian community was shock. Once The Church began to recover, it began to denounce the Roe vs. Wade decision. According to The Church, this was legalized murder. So the protests began. Planned Parenthood and other agencies that offered the now legal abortions were picketed. Christians who had worked hard in the Sixties for the Civil Rights Movement and/or the Antiwar Movement now employed their talents in support of the repeal of Roe vs. Wade.
But there was a serious problem. Unlike the Antiwar and Civil Rights protests, this protest offered no solution that would improve the situation. The women that sought help from the abortion clinics were called all sorts of names, but no one was offering them any assistance. The abortion clinic was the only place they could go.
Eventually, The Church began to open clinics that offered assistance to pregnant women (and the fathers) regardless of their marital status. The Church began to see these people as people, not as sinners. Yes, it is true, the fact that they are pregnant and unmarried is proof of their sin. But the model that Jesus offered—the one without sin should cast the first stone—was finally being implemented. Jesus taught us to Love each other. In our dealings with each other—our neighbors—we were to act as the “Good Samaritan” acted. (Luke 10:25-37)
That proved to be the beginnings of a solution. The Church began to see that offering the Love of Jesus to sinners was the answer to a multitude of problems. However, there is this one huge problem: the Seventh Commandment. How do Christians offer Love to Sinners without condoning their sin? The answer is in two very difficult words: Compassion and Humility. (Zechariah 7:9; Colossians 3:12 & Phillippians 2:3)
Their problem is not the issue. We Christians have a very hard time understanding this. We’ve experienced the Grace, Forgiveness and Love of God. We know Jesus. We want so very much for everyone to know Him. Yet…somehow…we “beat people over the head with our Bibles” as the saying goes! That’s because we see how Pure and Good and Divine our loving God is. We see and truly understand that He cannot let Sin into Heaven. Somehow He tolerates Sin here on Earth. But once we depart from this life, we had better be Holy. So, like with our children, we tend to punish people in order to show them that they need to “straighten up and fly right” (as my mother used to say). So we try to make people do better. We pass laws. We build prisons. And we apply social stigma; we, in effect, excommunicate those who we see as ‘Sinners’. Which breaks the channels of communication and makes it impossible to show Love to these sinners. We become Pharisees. That is our problem. That is why the only solutions that work are ones that are based on Humility and Compassion.
Their problem is not the issue. Their problem is theirs. It is between them and God. We can only do what Jesus did: offer healing and ask them to “go and sin no more”. We must let them work it out with God. For salvation comes only through Jesus. You and I can and must only provide a witness for Him. That is why Compassion and Humility are so critically important. When we act like Pharisees, we get the results the Pharisees got: we crucify Jesus. (Acts 4:11-12)
The true problem is that we, you & me, and them, all the sinners we meet, are of one birth: we are born in sin. We are born into Sin. Everything we do that is not perfectly obedient to God is Sin. So, when we tell a simple little white lie, we are following the nature we were born into. St. Paul called it the “flesh”. If your child is telling you a lie, just remember that he/she was born that way. That does not mean it okay for your child to lie. But it does mean that your child is going to have to have some help if he/she is to always tell the truth. (Romans 7:21-25)
You’ve heard that before, haven’t you? Perhaps you’ve said it, “I’m only human.” Earlier I mentioned the father of the illegitimate child, I said,”The father was not blamed. He was merely doing what nature made him do.” The same should be said for the mother. We all do “what nature made us do.” We are all liars. We were born that way. We are all adulterers. We were born that way. This does not mean that we are doomed. There is a loophole & I’ll discuss that later. Before that, we should discuss why many people dislike Christianity. (Romans 3:22-24)
Jesus tells us, in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Matthew 5-7) that anyone with a ‘wandering eye’ commits adultery. For, in the viewpoint of holiness, I should only have sexual fantasies concerning my wife. And she should only have fantasies about me. So, before we met, before we were married, we should not be looking at others in ‘that way’. That is the main reason most people do not like Christianity. How could any deity create beings that have one nature but are commanded by that deity to follow a different nature? That any divine being would do such a thing is evidence of the evil nature of that divinity.
The joy of Christianity is that this scenario is not true. The Triune Deity that created this world did not and could not do such a thing. In fact, that Deity actually became one of us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! The God that Christians worship knows firsthand what it is like to be human. That is why He became the perfect sacrifice, why He died on the Cross, to provide the way to our Salvation. This is the “loophole” God has provided. Through His death and resurrection we are born again, into eternal life. And, being born again, we are born into a new nature. That new nature is not, as St. Paul puts it, enslaved by Sin. We are free to make a free choice. The new nature of the born again Christian is free to choose telling the truth instead of lying. Christians can be faithful to their spouse. Christians do not need to tell lies.
A Different Viewpoint
Adultery is not merely sexual activity without benefit of being married to each other. Adultery is any sort of sexual activity between people who are not husband and wife. Our “Modern Western” Culture has an extremely difficult time with this. The attitude of “The West” is that sexual activity should be the main activity of any person, or any two or more people. To deny a person the opportunity of multiple and frequent sexual partners is to deny them their freedom of choice. However, the reality of the situation is quite different.
The problem is one of focus. If I truly love you, then, as my sexual partner, my sexual focus will be directed toward you. However, if I hardly know you, my sexual focus will be toward me. Now, if my focus is “me” then the focus of my activity is selfish. I may be engaged in sexual activity with you, but you are really nothing more than a means to self-gratification. If I truly love you, my focus, my desire, my activity will be toward you.
Consider, for example, the process of gambling. The gambler keeps betting in hopes of winning. Occasionally, he wins. Now, if the gambler is playing the lottery or a slot machine, the exhilaration of winning is limited to the self. The gambler can tell others about the joy of winning, but it cannot be shared. (Those he tells will most likely be envious.) Even more frustrating, if the gambler is playing poker or blackjack the event of winning automatically demonstrates that the joy of winning comes at the expense of those who lost. There is no way that a gambler can share the joy of winning with other gamblers. And so the joy of winning is diminished. But the craving remains. Thus the gambler, after even the biggest win, continues to place bets. The inability of the gambling process to enable the winner to share in joy with the losers makes gambling addictive.
Now, when the sexual partners are not married, they are like gamblers. Each of the partners may feel the joy of ‘winning’ but they truly cannot share it with their partner. There is no pathway to mutual-gratification. But there is a pathway to addiction. Just as the gambler keeps searching for “that perfect win” the lonely keep searching for “that perfect partner”. And neither can be found. For what they seek lies outside the boundaries of the game they play.
This is, I am certain, why God forbids adultery. He knows that through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony the two lovers will be able to engage in mutual-gratification. So I must ask, “Why would a loving Deity, a benevolent God, give you free will and then not tell you that some things you can do will never lead to happiness? That question puts a much different perspective on the cultural claims of our “Western, Modern” society. (There is much more to this. Show this to your pastor and ask about what is presented here. My point is to define adultery.)
Your situation with your sexual partners is not The Church’s problem. Just as the fact that you have a broken leg is not the doctor’s problem. It only becomes the doctor’s problem when you seek his advice and ask him to help you. When you do, it is not the doctor’s responsibility to tell you that a novice should not ride a mountain bike down an expert-rated trail. Your broken leg is already telling you that. What you need from the doctor is compassion and proper medical treatment. The same is true for the Sinner. The Church does not need to tell a person that he/she is a Sinner. Instead, the person needs to know that there is hope. There is a way to Spiritual Salvation. They need to know the Love and Grace of God.
That’s why, after forty years of Roe vs. Wade, The Church has begun to implement a policy of compassion, humility, hope and Love to those who have what we now call an “unwanted pregnancy.” And The Church is beginning to see that when it implements policy modeled on Jesus’ teachings, the ‘sinners’ begin to understand that they have a choice. And not just a choice about their pregnancy. They see that they have a choice about every aspect of their lives.
What About Homosexuals?
So? What makes them different from any other group of human beings? The claim that homosexuals are ‘born that way’ means nothing when we realize that all humans are born into Sin. We know—or think we know—what the Bible says. Now, there are those who make the claim that the original Biblical text does not actually say what we think it says. That means the translators have introduced error into Scripture. We need to discuss this—not in depth, but a quick summary of this claim.
The easiest way for most of us to find the interpretations that say the Bible’s interpreters made mistakes is to search the Internet. Scattered among the websites I found a few that appeared to be researched properly. They offer a reasoned argument for their opinion that homosexuality is not prohibited by God. Let’s take a quick look at what they have done.
First, I do not have the authority to say that these sites are, by virtue of Church history, correct or incorrect. Second, I have meditated and prayed about this for a long time. It was only when I realized what had happened to The Church as a result of the Roe vs. Wade case that I began to see the answer to the question about homosexuality. The problem, for The Church, is that if our culture, our society, decides that certain specific verses in the Bible are incorrect in their original language, then what else in the Bible is incorrect? And if the translators got this wrong, then we need to go back and re-translate every verse. If we do, what will be our authority? How can we ever know if a translation is correct?
As for the websites I saw that are making the effort to state that the “error” is not in the original language, but in the translation, I have the following thoughts: These sites depict the culture of the time, the religious practices of other religions in the area, the specifics of the language, and any other evidence they can find to show that what the modern translation says is not what the original language meant.
Unfortunately, this interpretation argument is exactly the same sort of argument that produces the denominational arguments about dunking or sprinkling at baptism. That’s because interpretation should not be done by verse, but by the context of the entire Bible. However, while there are those who argue about total immersion versus sprinkling at baptism, all will agree that baptism is Biblical. The Bible tells us that God created male and female and commanded that humans procreate so that the whole earth will be inhabited. Throughout the Bible we see God treating any sexual activity outside marriage as adultery. God gives Moses permission to allow divorce; however, Jesus tells us that from the beginning God intended marriage to be one man and one woman for their entire lives. You, of course, have free will. You can—and you will—do what you want.
But what should The Church do? The exact same thing it is learning to do for pregnant women: offer compassion, humility and, most of all, hope. Just as all humans are born liars, all humans are born adulterers: some with the opposite sex, some with the same sex, some with both. Just as a liar can, through Jesus, stop lying, an adulterer can stop his/her sin. No one can say it will be easy. Liars, gossips, and the like will, if they are honest, tell you that it is most difficult to learn to be truly honest. Their sin is a part of who they are. That cannot be easily changed. Only the Deity that created me can change me.
As for the question about homosexuality being a sin, let’s consider this: I cannot tell you that one interpretation of the Bible or another is correct. I am not an ordained priest, nor have I studied the ancient Biblical languages. But I can tell you that if you are ‘homosexual’ or ‘straight’ and you have had sex with more than one sexual partner, you are most definitely an adulterer. That is the Biblical definition of adultery. Jesus, through His Church, does offer real, true Hope. He can repair your ‘fleshly nature’.
Your sin is your problem. Just like the guy with the broken leg, until you seek help, The Church cannot help you any more than a doctor can help me with my broken leg when I refuse medical assistance. The real problem is not that a person is a “homosexual” but that a person is committing adultery by participating in fornication. Once The Church stops segregating sexual sins into categories and treats everyone the same way, I think God will intervene. He will—He does—reveal Himself to those who seek Him. We are seeing that happen in the Christian pregnancy clinics.
My ‘argument’ here is not about ‘homosexuality’. It is about ‘adultery’ and ‘fornication’. I believe that once we permit Jesus to change our desire to fornicate then the problem of homosexuality will be solved. I am also certain that attempting to ‘cure’ homosexuality will ultimately fail. The problem is adultery in each and every form that it takes; just as the ninth commandment concerns “bearing false witness” in each and every form that might take. Trying to cure gossip without curing lies will fail, too.
My ‘argument’ here is that The Church, if it is the Body of Christ, will follow His lead. Jesus never condemned a prostitute for being a prostitute. While He did condemn the culture that fomented prostitution, He offered Hope to the prostitute. Does your congregation offer real, spiritual Hope to everyone? Do you?
I wish I could state categorically that I do and that the congregation I worship with does also. Unfortunately, I’m human. And we’re humans. And there’s eight other commandments. We need the Grace of God just as much as you do.
What is Grace?
It’s forgiveness and mercy.
And if The Church is The Body of Christ, then we must let Jesus provide His forgiveness and His mercy through our actions. When we do that, we show the sinner exactly who Jesus is. The Church has struggled with this for two millennia. Some centuries produce better results than others. And so I’m posting this under the menu item “Grace” because I do pray that this will help The Church (you and me) provide a better witness to the world.
Apparently, clinics that offer hope to those with an unwanted pregnancy are the best answer to that situation. We Christians are just now learning that. I don’t know what the “best answer” is for homosexuals. Christians need to find a solution like the pregnancy clinics. But No! I don’t mean they need a clinic. I mean that Christians should find something that offers Hope to them just as the clinics offer Hope to those with unwanted pregnancy. That means we have to forgive their sin of adultery and that we cannot ever condemn them for what they have done or who they are. It is only after they accept Jesus and understand what He has done for them that they can begin to Love Him. Then, and only then, will they be willing to obey Him. Remember: that is how it worked for you.
It’s like the song says, “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love.”