I often like to meditate on things during my time at work or when I go for walks out in my neighborhood. I meditate on how I feel, recent events in my life, or on the scriptures. Occasionally, God will bring to my mind a certain scripture or theme upon which I will meditate on. And yesterday was no different. Often times we regularly hear of people talking about those who are our Christian “brothers and sisters,” and usually we also hear people saying that despite our different systems of belief or lifestyle, we are still brothers and sisters in the Lord because of our love of Jesus Christ. Because in the end that is really all that matters, right? As long as a person loves Jesus or says or even thinks that they love Christ, then that makes them my brother or sister, right? I began to meditate on this question, because I find myself having a hard time considering some people who profess to be followers of Christ as being my brothers and sisters. I am not simply speaking here of people who belong to a different tradition or have differing opinions on some biblical passages. I am talking about those who live certain lifestyles and who allow their way of life to influence their theology. These people say that they love Christ, and some of their actions even seem to show, at least outwardly so, that they believe that they are following Christ’s example by feeding the poor, taking care of the sick, helping the downtrodden and oppressed within society. And these are all good things, but as the Lord said to the churches in Asia Minor “Yes, that’s all very well and good, but I have these things against you….” (Revelation 2:4) I feel like that when I read and listen to people like Rachel Held Evans and Rob Bell, just to name a few well-known people.
Both Rob Bell and Rachel Held Evans have been at the center of much controversy over the past few years, some of which was over nothing really. Both authors gear their teachings toward people who were hurt by the church and left it as a result, or toward the hip and cool younger generation that identifies more with spirituality verses religion (whatever that means). Personally, I have never really been impressed with either of them, but I have always been more geared toward the scholarly side of issues verses the populist message in certain Christian circles anyway. I liked some of what each of them said, but I really did not see the big deal to be honest. But despite my appreciation for the good that Bell and Evans have done in their respective ministries, I still have something against them because of the stance that they have taken on homosexuality. Both Bell and Evans support gay marriage and appear to teach that homosexual acts are not sinful (though they probably feel that they are not sinful if done within a monogamous relationship). This is where it becomes complicated for me.
On the one hand, both Bell and Evans claim to love Jesus and try to follow his teaching about loving your neighbor and taking care of other people. That is great and I applaud them for doing that. But on the other hand, both of them are teaching people that it is ok to live in a lifestyle (i.e. practicing gay sex as opposed to being a LGBT person who is abstaining from sex) that the Judeo-Christian religion has considered as sinful for over three-thousand years. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures speak of homosexual acts as being sinful, and post-biblical Christianity and Judaism both continued believing this to be true. Even Islam follows the lead of the other two Abrahamic faiths in condemning the practice as sinful. The scriptures even tell us that those who practice unrepentant homosexual acts cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). And so the problem that I was mediating upon was the question of “who is my brother and who is my sister?” Could I consider these two individuals my brother and sister in the Lord? They love Jesus Christ and try to treat others with love, but yet they do not speak against unrighteousness but give approval to those who practice it (Romans 1:32). So I meditated on this question earnestly, asking the Lord “Who are my brothers and sisters?”
While I was meditating, a scripture was brought to my mind. The passage is found within the gospel according to St. Matthew. In the passage, some of Christ’s family is trying to get to him, causing some of the crowd listening to Christ to tell him about his family wanting to see him. This was Christ’s response to him:
“But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:48-50)
I meditated on this scripture for the rest of the day. “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother,” Christ said. Jesus did not say “Whoever says they love me or whoever loves other people is my brother and sister and mother,” but he said “whoever does the will of my Father in heaven.” But what about people like Bell and Evans, people who really, really say or think that they love Jesus? Because is not loving Jesus the entire point? If treating others with love and respect, taking care of the poor and downtrodden, and sticking up for the oppressed is not proof of having love for Christ, then what is? Again, the scripture was brought to my mind:
“They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (John 14:21)
So if we have received the commandments of God, but we do not keep them ourselves and teach other people that it is ok to do that which God has forbidden them to do, how then can we even say that we love God; how can we say that we love Christ? But what about all the good works that they do? Is that not the proof of God’s love? According to Christ it is not. According to Christ, it is only those who have received his commandments (and gladly so!) and keep them that truly love him. And indeed, did not Christ speak through one of the holy prophets to King Saul and say to him “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and to heed the Lord is better than the fat of rams!” (1 Samuel 15:22). He might as well have said that to obey God’s commandment is better than doing all the social justice in the world.
So in closing, this is what I meditated upon yesterday as I worked. The topic is a very deep one, perhaps above my meager intellect. I desire to live at peace with all men (Romans 12:18), and to accept and welcome all as my brothers and sisters. But how can you do this when you are trying to urge people to live in righteousness and in the fear of the Lord when those who should be your brothers and sisters are teaching the people that it is ok to live in their unrighteousness? “Can fresh water and salt water flow out of the same fountain?” (James 3:11) “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?” (Amos 3:3) “Can a person partake of the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils?” (1 Corinthians 10:21). The only answer that I can come to, brothers and sisters, is that one cannot be of both worlds. Therefore I can only conclude that while we must “strive for peace with all men” we must also “strive for the holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14).