Three recent developments raise significant questions and concerns for the church.
1. The Boy Scouts of America remove their policy banning openly homosexual youth.
2. The president of Exodus International (a ministry that for years was dedicated to helping people leave the homosexual lifestyle) apologizes to the homosexual community for hurting them and closes its doors.
3. The Supreme Court rules against the Defense of Marriage Act, giving federal consent to same sex unions.
How should the church respond? Did Jesus see this coming? If so, how does He want us to respond?
I am convinced that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 provides a framework for the church when the church and culture clash. Jesus is praying,
I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. John 17:9-19
Jesus’ prayer has several requests. He asks the Father to keep his followers, that his followers be one, that their joy be full, that they go into the world all the while being protected from the evil one, and finally that they be sanctified (set apart) in the truth.
From Jesus’ prayer we can take heart when the church and the culture clash. First, Jesus is still praying for us today. He intercedes for us even now. He is not caught off guard by recent developments, is not surprised when the world acts like the world. In His prayer, Jesus makes a clear distinction between his followers and the world. Recent events make that distinction even clearer.
Second, Jesus prays that we will be one. Does being one mean that the church acquiesces to every whim of the culture around it. No! As the church we rally around the Gospel. We have one message and one cause. The message: Jesus died in our place for our sins so that we might have life. The cause: get that message out to as many people as possible. Inherent in the gospel message is the reality of sin. If we are not sinners, Jesus died in vain. Homosexuality (along with a long list of other things) is a sin. Homosexuals, adulterers, cheaters, gossipers, drug addicts…all are sinners, all need Jesus. All must forsake their sin if they are going to know the power and the hope of the Gospel.
How then, we can fulfill Jesus’ prayer to be joyful in light of recent events? The Gospel. We are joyful because a perfect Savior died for imperfect people. We are joyful because we have passed from death to life. The more pronounced sin becomes, the more glorious the gospel! When the culture embraces and even endorses sin, we have a platform to declare the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul said in Romans 1:16
I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
The church’s message will always be counter-cultural. If it is not, we are declaring the wrong message. Jesus anticipated the recent events. He said in his prayer that he has “consecrated himself” that we may be “sanctified in truth.” This is a play on words. Consecrated and sanctified are the same words in the Greek. Jesus sanctified himself so that we would be sanctified. Jesus has set apart himself for our “set-apartedness” (okay I made up that word).
And what are we sanctified in? The truth. Regardless of the Boy Scouts decision, the exodus of Exodus International, or the ruling of the Supreme Court we are anchored in truth.
John Newton, author of Amazing Grace, said near the end of his life:
My memory is nearly gone but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.
The hope for homosexuals lies in Newton’s words. The hope for alcoholics lies in Newton’s words. The hope for cheaters, for adulterers, for murderers, for gossipers lies in Newton’s words. They are great sinners. Christ is a great Savior.
When church and culture clash, the Gospel must ring forth with a clarion call to repentance and salvation found in Jesus alone.
This is the time to be the answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17.