Now, I am sympathetic to this concern. It frustrates me that the world considers me a “hater” and a “homophobe” because of my Christian convictions. My personal inclination is to do everything in my power to show this is not the case about me or the church I pastor, nor of my denomination. I believe most of my brothers are expressing their objections for similar reasons. I believe most of them only want the PCA to be known as a denomination that welcomes sinners and loves them well in order to see them come to faith and maturity in Christ. They see these overtures as stumbling blocks. I get that and believe it is vital that we “put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry…” (2 Corinthians 6:3) We ought to remove every hindrance to people coming to know Jesus as Savior and Lord.
However, removing ALL stumbling blocks is not actually possible because Jesus himself IS a stumbling block. He is “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” (1 Peter 2:8) Paul also makes this point saying, “But we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23–24) The gospel itself is offensive to the self-made, autonomous human heart. As a denomination, it is naive of us to think we can avoid offending the world when the very gospel we proclaim is designed to offend those who remain in rebellion against God.
But this brings me to what was missing. It seemed many of the brothers who spoke against the overtures regarding same-sex attraction, have forgotten what our Lord taught the Apostles about the hostility they will experience from the world simply because they are his disciples.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18–20, NIV)
According to Jesus, the world which already hates him will hate his friends also. Consequently, Christ’s friends can expect to be persecuted. They can expect to be personally harmed economically, spiritually, and physically. Some of those who afflict them will even believe they are serving God by their actions. (John 16:2) They might even be members of one’s own family. (Matthew 10:34–36) Jesus certainly experienced this firsthand. “For not even his brothers believed in him.” (John 7:5) In fact, they were convinced he was certifiable. (Mark 3:21) When he visited his hometown Luke states they spoke well of him while he taught from Isaiah 61. But minutes later they tried to throw him off a cliff! (Luke 4:22-29)
Why was there so much hatred for Jesus in his own day? Hear his own words: “The world…hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7) He has come as a light into this dark world. (John 3:19–20) They hate Jesus because he is the Light and they love darkness and want to remain in darkness. The light is an intrusion therefore it is not welcomed. Welcoming the light would mean coming out into the light and agreeing with Jesus your deeds are evil and that you need salvation. And it would mean you acknowledge that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus! And it means you agree he is the ultimate rule of truth, righteousness, and goodness.
But therein lies the problem. Those in the world want to be their own authority and their own saviors. They want to remain in control of their lives. They want to decide for themselves what is true and what is false; what is good and what is evil. This is the original sin in Genesis 3 which has prevailed in the human heart to this day. And this is why all humans apart from God’s grace, hate Jesus, hate the Father, and reject the Gospel. If this is how the world feels about Jesus, then what will prevent the world from feeling this way about his friends? Only one of two things: conversion or compromise. Christians cannot serve God and the World at the same time, yet it sure sounds to me this is what some are trying to do. The only way those in the world can be on friendly terms with the Church is if they join the Church, or if the Church joins the World. I have no doubt conversion is what my brothers desire and are striving for. I am certain they too agree compromise is to be avoided. But I am not convinced they think they are capable of compromise. I have read several posts about how fear is the driving force behind it all. But sometimes fear is what keeps you alive, or in this case from compromise. In our present day, the world is pressing in hard against the Church demanding that it change and get with the times.
This is what was missing in the debates and speeches made by my brothers who spoke against these overtures: the awareness that following Christ involves carrying a cross, enduring persecution, rejection, being called names and considered to be the scum of the earth. (1 Cor. 4:13)
It was not until I heard the final sermon preached on the final night of the General Assembly that I noticed this was missing. Ironically, the sermon was from 2 Corinthians 2 which speaks to this truth.
"But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God." (2 Corinthians 2:14–17, NIV)
Most of what my brother preached I agree with. However, there was a point in which he lost the plot of 2 Corinthians 2. He rightly stated that we are to spread the fragrance of Christ everywhere. Yet, he seemed to forget that fragrance does not smell good to everyone and even implied that if this fragrance smells like death to some, we may be doing it wrong. He also rightly stated that “True power in the kingdom of God looks like weakness in the world.” Yes, it does! But then he states “The ethic of compassion and forgiveness...is the aroma of Christ.” He goes on to describe this aroma further as standing with the marginalized, the hurting, and the broken of society. So what is the problem?
The problem is not with doing such works, but with interpreting Paul’s words to say what he is not saying while simultaneously obscuring what he is saying. What Paul has in mind when he refers to the “fragrance of Christ” is the gospel itself: the good news about forgiveness and life in Christ’s name contrasted with the bad news about sin and judgment and how one can escape it. It is the glorious news of his coming into the world, of his life, death, resurrection, ascension and his coming again to judge the world at the last day. It is the message of hope that says anyone who comes to Jesus in faith, confessing Jesus is Lord and believing in their heart God raised Him from the dead will not be turned away but will receive the forgiveness of their sins. THAT is the fragrance Paul speaks of which ought to fill the air everywhere we go. And in this passage, Paul explains how this delightful and glorious fragrance will be the sweetest aroma to those who are being saved. But to those who are perishing, it will smell like a rotting corpse. And when they smell it they will hate it and anyone who is spreading it around. According to Jesus, they may even want to kill the bearer of this bad odor. A survey of the preaching of Paul in the book of Acts shows this to be the case. After his conversion and baptism, Luke tells us,
“Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. After many days had gone by, the Jews conspired to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. (Acts 9:19–25, NIV)
Paul experienced similar hostility in Jerusalem.
“Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He talked and debated with the Grecian Jews, but they tried to kill him. (Acts 9:27–29, NIV)
It always seems to escalate quickly with Paul. Perhaps Paul, being new at spreading the fragrance of Christ did not understand how to do this properly? Maybe he should have read Tim Keller's book on preaching so that his hearers would not be inclined to kill him on the spot? No, this was the pattern of his entire ministry. According to Luke, the fragrance that filled the air was always “Jesus and the resurrection”. (Acts 17:18) It was not a social message, but a message of life and death. While social action may accompany the preaching of the gospel and commend the message, these things are NOT the gospel. Also, engagement in social action does not communicate strength through weakness. The world considers social action the correct (strong) message and action. However, the message of the crucified and risen Savior it considers to be foolishness (weak). Again, this does not mean we are not to engage in social matters where appropriate, only that we must not define the aroma Paul speaks of here as social engagement. The aroma of Christ is Christ.
With all due respect to my brother and fellow minister, his sermon on 2 Corinthians 2 failed to prepare God’s people for the challenges ahead which I see as highly dangerous. Jesus saw the importance of preparing his disciples for the hostility they would soon experience. Yet this was absent from the message in a time when hostility to the Christian message is growing. It seems to me the message was this: hostility from the world was irregular and meant I was not being faithful. It sounded like he was saying Christians should seek to be friends with the world and to impress it with our social action. It seems he had forgotten that “whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)
If I were to sit down with him and discuss this issue, I am sure he would say he only meant we are to love our enemies, seek the welfare of our communities and do all we can to avoid unnecessary offenses. He would say we should be servants. And I would wholeheartedly agree with him. Amen! It is far too easy to use this truth as an excuse to be a jerk. We should remove all unnecessary offenses, not so the world will like us, but so it will be plain that what they oppose is Christ himself and us because we are his disciples. But it seems to me many of my dear brothers in Christ are far too concerned about what the world thinks of the Church.
And that is really the point I am trying to make. What was missing was the awareness of the fact that to belong to Christ is to bear the badge of dishonor in the eyes of the world. The world hates Jesus and will hate us also. May we all take Jesus’ words to heart and not be surprised when we are persecuted as if something "strange" were happening. (1 Peter 4:12) We are called to faithfully spread the fragrance of Christ and leave the outcome to the work of the Spirit who alone can provide new noses so they can smell the sweet fragrance of Christ.