How, When And Where Should We Have “The Talk”?
There are certain lines that I remember from my childhood; certain parenting gems that have lodged in my heart and in my mind and that have formed the bedrock of my worldview and character. My dad used to say: “If you are going to do it, do it right”. My mom used to say: “It isn’t what you say, its how you say it.” Those two maxims have been rattling around in my heart with respect to this particular conversation for the better part of 3 years.
I think we all know that it is time for us to have “the talk” in the CBOQ. We have watched other denominations fracture and fall apart under the pressure of this particular issue. Sometimes they fell apart because they could not agree; sometimes they fell apart because of how they disagreed. We are going to have the talk – we are going to do this – but we want to do it right. We are going to say some things, but we are going to care about HOW those things are said.
So, before we have the talk, let’s have a talk about how, when and where we should have the talk.
Issue #1: Is it unloving to rebuke a brother or sister in Christ?
Sometimes Christians speak as though love and truth cannot go together. “Love” for many contemporary Evangelicals means never correcting, never disagreeing, only accepting, only affirming and always encouraging. But if that is love then Jesus was not very loving. He had no problem saying to fellow religious leaders in his day:
“you are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24 ESV)
Those are some pretty firm Red Letters and they come just 11 verses before Jesus says this:
‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:31 ESV)
Clearly Jesus did not understand love and rebuke as necessarily antithetical, in fact, the Old Testament passage Jesus is citing here in Mark 12:31 puts both of those imperatives together. The full text of the second greatest commandment reads as follows:
“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18 You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. (Leviticus 19:17–18 ESV)
The Hebrew word translated by the ESV as “reason frankly with” literally means “to rebuke” and is translated as such by the NKJV. Therefore let there be no mistake, love as defined by the Bible insists upon frank reasoning with one another lest we incur sin by virtue of our association.
The Biblical definition of love demands that we have this conversation.
Issue #2: Should this conversation have begun privately?
The articles I have written over the last 7 days have generated more emails, phone calls and PM’s than I have had time to respond to. They have contained a mixture of affirmation, encouragement, suggestion and rebuke. Interestingly, no one has yet disagreed with me on the sinfulness of homosexuality (whether defined narrowly as homosexual acts or more broadly as desire and act) and no one has yet disagreed with me as to the necessity of having this particular conversation. All of the disagreement thus far has surrounded the matter of venue and approach.
A few people have asked me whether or not I should have contacted the leadership of Danforth Baptist personally before writing a public response. Specifically I have been asked whether the steps of Matthew 18 should have been followed more closely. I have replied to these brothers (they happen to have all been brothers) that Matthew 18 relates specifically to the matter of dispute resolution between members of a local church. Clearly, this is not that. The more relevant Biblical text in this case would be 1 Timothy 5:19-20 which states:
"Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear." (1 Timothy 5:19–20 ESV)
Here the concern seems to be to limit challenges to elders and pastors to those charges that can be substantiated by multiple witnesses. If the charge can be substantiated (and in this case the evidence is publicly available) then the rebuke is to be given publicly – in the presence of all – so that the rest may stand in fear.
Another Scripture that offers counsel to us in this matter comes from Paul’s Letter To The Galatians. In that letter Paul narrates a public confrontation that he initiated with the Apostle Peter. Paul says:
"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (Galatians 2:11–14 ESV)
When Paul saw that Peter’s (Cephas’) public conduct obscured the general perception of the Gospel Paul rebuked Peter BEFORE THEM ALL. The offence was public therefore the correction was public.
The world knows that Evangelical Christians are wrestling with the implications of the sexual revolution. We cannot hide that and those who are openly affirming are not doing their affirming in the dark; they are doing it via social media and on-line - as has been the case here. The venue for this conversation was chosen by those who decided to make a public, on-line statement without first consulting with the rest of us with whom they are in public association. Churches and leaders bearing the name of Christ and the family title “CBOQ” have affirmed into leadership LGBTQ folks. That makes us all complicit and that demands a public response.
Issue #3: When, Where And How Should This Conversation Continue?
Almost everyone I have discussed this with has agreed that we need to have the conversation. The differences come down to “when”, “where” and “how”.
I’ve heard from a number of folks who can’t believe we’ve waited this long and an equal number who can’t believe how fast this is moving – clearly “pace” is a matter of perspective. In a perfect world we would have dedicated some time over the last several Assemblies to discussing aspects of this issue in workshops and smaller seminars. We might have brought in theologians and biblical scholars from both sides of the debate. We might have created a closed website where delegates could discuss papers from those presenters on-line throughout the year. That would have better prepared us for the conversation we must now have. However, the clock was sped up a great deal when CBOQ churches began publicly affirming without adequate consultation. The “pace” horse has left the barn and is already ¾ of the way around the track. We are now in catch up mode and can no longer engage in these sorts of preliminaries. We need to have this conversation NOW. It needs to happen immediately before churches simply start resigning their membership in the CBOQ.
That brings us to the matter of “where”. While on-line forums such as that provided here at adfontes can provide resources and can facilitate discussion, obviously this conversation needs to take place at Assembly. We need to speak to one another face to face. If Assembly isn’t for that, then what in the world is it for? Our Baptist grandparents said that associations and assemblies existed for this very reason. In chapter 26 paragraph 15 of the Old Baptist Confession it says:
“In cases of difficulties or differences, either in point of doctrine or administration, wherein either the churches in general are concerned, or any one church, in their peace, union, and edification; or any member or members of any church are injured, in or by any proceedings in censures not agreeable to truth and order: it is according to the mind of Christ, that many churches holding communion together, do, by their messengers, meet to consider, and give their advice in or about that matter in difference, to be reported to all the churches concerned; howbeit these messengers assembled, are not intrusted with any church-power properly so called; or with any jurisdiction over the churches themselves, to exercise any censures either over any churches or persons; or to impose their determination on the churches or officers.”
Associations and Assemblies exist to provide a forum for mutual discussion and discernment regarding difficulties or differences either in point of doctrine or administration – if this isn’t that than what is?
The same paragraph says that whatever decisions and discernments are produced out of such Associations and Assemblies, they are not to be imposed on individual churches. Read that sentence again. I believe that and I hope you do too. The goal of discussing this at Assembly is not to determine a standard that we will impose on other churches, rather it is to agree together as to a statement that will constitute an aspect of our shared identity and missiological partnership. We will endeavor to say: “On this issue we believe so and so”. No church will be compelled to believe or teach that belief but it will become part of the basis for our continuing association. In essence, we will say: “We are this” and “if you are that” then “you are no longer us”.
The tent simply isn’t big enough, nor the canvas flexible enough, to accommodate the varieties of conviction that presently exist within the CBOQ on this matter. We have to talk, we have to discern, we have to declare and we have to decide one way or another – are we together on this or is it time to work apart?
Suggestions In Pursuit Of This Plan:
If this is to be the way forward then I would recommend the following:
1. In your letter to the CBOQ Board include a request that this matter be given centre stage in Assembly planning. Ask for workshops on Day 1 and a floor discussion on Day 2.
2. Begin to search the Scriptures and to pray.
3. Begin to listen to brothers and sisters on both sides of this matter by way of preparation.
A Final Word And Plea:
Let’s never forget that the neighbours are listening.
We are not a secret society, we occupy a place in the public square. We are salt and light. We are a witness to an alternative kingdom. The world will watch and listen to our conversation on this matter, though they may ignore everything else we would far rather discuss. This issue interests them so they will bend an ear when we gather to talk this one through. Be aware of that. Speak truth and speak love. Defend the truth – but do it with gentleness and respect.
Finally, let’s also be careful not to vilify the leadership of the CBOQ. I have been frustrated with the CBOQ leadership in the past but I have recently been helped to realize that my frustration is misdirected. The leadership of the CBOQ is a shared project – between executive, staff, board and delegates. Because the authority is so spread out, I don’t believe that any one person at CBOQ head office, nor any one board member, could have personally initiated this conversation. They work from a mandate that WE GIVE THEM. Therefore, we are to blame for the delay in this conversation. I am to blame. You are to blame.
Last year at Assembly Brian Craig spoke about our “farmer/preacher grandparents” who tilled their fields and read their Bibles. Do you think they would have looked to a board of governors or an executive minister to solve a problem such as this in their day? I think not. I think they would have plowed their fields, bent their knees and then gathered together in order to determine what the Scriptures say.
Let’s do the same.
Let’s bend our knees and pray and then let’s get up and take ownership of this issue. Let’s set the agenda for Assembly – that is our responsibility – and let’s engage the conversation at Assembly – that is our duty. Let’s have it and then let’s be done with it. Let’s get back to our fields that are white unto harvest.
For the glory of God and the progress of the Gospel,
Pastor Paul Carter