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When Did Sexual Issues Become the Litmus Test for Fellowship?

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How does your church address the problem of sexual immorality?

The cultural pressure is rising, and society’s views are changing rapidly—at least, that’s what the media tells us. Christians are increasingly coming under fire at work and school. What do we do? An author I follow recently said this:

“The Church is divided by questions like: Does nature or nurture affect sexual orientation? Does every homosexual believer become heterosexual? What roles can a homosexual person fill inside a church?”

The author explained that he’s open to asking those questions and recognizes that people have a legal right to say what they think:

“Now, I don’t mind the questions. In fact, I have opinions on the shifting climate of societal norms. And if I wanted to voice my opinions on these issues, I’m granted the right to do so by my country and the Constitution.”

But even though we have a right to share our opinions, he refuses because he doesn’t want to isolate people based on mere opinion:

“But consider this: if I shared my opinions, then some friends might stop being my friend. Some readers might stop reading. Some church family members might stop attending. So I don’t—not because I’m afraid of losing anyone, but because these are just opinions. And opinions aren’t worth isolating family, both biological and spiritual.”

I agree with the author that you should never divide over something that is merely an opinion. By an opinion, I mean something you consider less than knowledge—a “belief stronger than impression and less strong than positive knowledge” (see here). If you suspect something is true, but don’t know for sure, then you shouldn’t divide over that question until you study it more and come to firmer conclusions about it.

But if he means you should never share what you believe to be true about sexual issues because that can create division, then I disagree. Sometimes division is necessary. Our attitude should not be to have unity at any cost.

He continues:

“When did our view of sexuality and homosexuality become the litmus test for fellowshipping with each other?”

That question makes me suspect he leads towards a “welcoming and affirming” stance on sexual issues. But to answer his question: our view of sexuality became a litmus test when Paul made it one.

I understand that Christians have a problem with divisiveness. We divide over every conceivable reason. Baptism. Ordination. Eschatology. The atonement. The Holy Spirit. Holiness. Bible translations. Everybody has a reason for division, and everyone is convinced that their reason is good.

I’m not so sure.

I want an objective basis for separation. So I began reading the Bible with this question in mind: “Does the New Testament ever explicitly name the issues that require separation?”

Surprisingly, I found very few explicit reasons for division, but most were behavioral; yes, sexual immorality is on the list. Here’s what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

I wrote to you in a letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. I did not mean the immoral people of this world or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters; otherwise you would have to leave the world. But actually, I wrote you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister and is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or verbally abusive, a drunkard or a swindler. Do not even eat with such a person. For what business is it of mine to judge outsiders? Don’t you judge those who are inside? God judges outsiders. Remove the evil person from among you (1 Cor 5:9-13, emphasis added).

According to Paul, we are to separate from sexually immoral Christians. That’s not an option but an obligation.

Paul says, “Do not even eat with such a person.” If you don’t know how early Christians worshipped, you can easily miss the significance of that remark.

You see, the first believers met in their homes to eat together. Their worship occurred around the Lord’s Supper, a real supper called the deipnon—the ordinary evening meal. They would eat, pray, and then share their ministry gifts. When Paul says we shouldn’t eat with sexually immoral brothers or sisters, he doesn’t just mean we should avoid getting lunch together, but that we should exclude the sexually immoral from the church meeting. This is a church discipline issue. How many churches take that command seriously?

To be clear, sexual immorality isn’t a salvation issue. The sexually immoral are saved the same way all sinners can be saved: by grace, through faith, apart from works (Gal 2:16). You can be struggling with any sexual sin, believe in Jesus for eternal life, and have it.

But salvation by grace doesn’t mean we should excuse or condone sexual sins. On the contrary, you should not continue in sin (cf. Rom 6:1). And if someone does, being gracious doesn’t mean avoiding church discipline.

In sum, sexual immorality is one of the few Biblical litmus tests for fellowship, and that’s not just my opinion.

Send your questions or comments to Shawn.


One comment on “When Did Sexual Issues Become the Litmus Test for Fellowship?”

  1. How can a church determine whether on of their people is greedy or idolatrous? It's a bit easier to determine the other criteria.

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