The evangelists in the subways who shouted condemnation to passerbys in the name of Jesus Christ did nothing to fill the God-shaped hole of those who walked by. They caused us to cringe. I am quite certain that nobody has ever been drawn toward God by strangers screaming "Repent." The ancient prophets spoke of impending judgment with tears in their eyes and love in their hearts; a much superior presentation of the gospel than the fraudulent New York subway prophets who proudly bear the name Christian but are sadly dispossessed of Christ. Beavers have incisors on their bottom jaw that never cease growing, and if for some reason those teeth are knocked out of alignment, the incisors will grow into the roof of the mouth and eventually pierce the brain, causing a tortuous death. Those subway "evangelists" have gotten themselves out of alignment on the love and justice of God toward sinners and seem to me to be morally long-in-the-tooth and spiritually dead. It is infinitely wiser to follow biblical principles and seek to lead sinners to faith in Christ and repentance of sin through deeds and words of unconditional love and immeasurable kindness. This past week has again proven that this style of evangelism actually works.
The Roosevelt Island Revelation
Across from the United Nations, situated in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, sits Roosevelt Island. The New York Insane Asylum used to be housed on this island (1800's), and I could tell you a half-dozen captivating stories of courageous people who found themselves labeled by society and institutionalized at Roosevelt, only later to leave the asylum and change for the better the city and culture that originally sent them away. There is a little crazy in all of us, but the difference between those who live life isolated from the world and those who wind up changing the world becomes the courage of conviction. People of courageous conviction, no matter the persecution, are able to change their world.
Rachelle and I were sitting on a park bench in Roosevelt on Friday morning when I received a text from Bob Cleveland. He mentioned Jonathan Merritt in his message, and I was not sure to what he was referring. I intentionally left my computer in Enid for the week and had been out of touch with all that was happening. It was while we were on Roosevelt Island that I accessed the Internet, via my phone, for the first time in several days. I googled "Jonathan Merritt" and knew instantly that Jonathan might desire a program that erases one's Internet identity more than Catwoman (Dark Knight Rising fans will understand). The publicity of Jonathan's same-sex sexual liason is enormous. It was troubling for me to read many of the articles because my thoughts were on the Merritts and the embarrassment and pain being experienced by Jonathan and his family in having secret sins being made public (without consent) via the Internet. What Jonathan did was immoral, not illegal. Rather than rehashing the events of this past week, it might be best to read Ed Stetzer's blog on Jonathan Merritt's confession of his immoral homosexual liason.
The homosexual activists have gone ballistic over Jonathan's words in Stetzer's interview. One even called Jonathan a douche. Why are the homosexual activists angry? Because Jonathan called his sexual activity with another man "sin." Catch that? Jonathan had the courage of conviction to call his sexual activity outside of marriage "sin." Good for Jonathan. Sin is precisely why we need a Savior. I am not surprised by Jonathan's same-sex sexual desires. Nor am I discouraged by Jonathan's moral failure--in fact, I am attempting to reach him to come speak at Emmanuel. Jonathan may better understand the gospel than many other Southern Baptists. The gospel is for sinners. Christ loves sinners. God forgives sinners. The good news is for sinners. There is no gospel, there is no grace, there is no Savior, there is no cleansing, there is no forgiveness, there is no redemption, there is no restoration, and there is no salvation where there is no sin. After a few hours of digesting all the news and interviews related to Jonathan Merritt this past week, I came to the following conclusion: Jonathan Merritt may very well become the Southern Baptist person most able to influence the next generation toward genuine faith in Christ and real repentance of sin.
The Courage of Conviction
Riverside Church, located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is the church built by John D. Rockefeller. The church's theology is progressive and liberal. The authority of Scripture is disdained, and church leadership is open to gays and lesbians. Riverside, like many liberal churches, have determined that same-sex sexual activity is not sin. Union Theological Seminary, next door to Riverside, would argue the same thing. So would the World Council of Churches across the street. Homosexuality is not immoral. It is normal. It is of God. It is natural. It is lovely. It is good.
However, on May 5, 1985, Dr. Channing Phillips, the African-American Executive Pastor of Riverside Church, preached a Sunday morning message entitled "On Human Sexuality." Dr. Phillips took as his text the woman caught in adultery and spoke to all issues regarding human sexuality. When it came time to address homosexual behavior, Dr. Phillips stated that there was "good news and bad news" regarding same-sex sexual activity. The bad news, he said, was that homosexuality was sin and was contrary to the parable of human sexuality given in Genesis that man should cleave to a woman. Then, Dr. Phillips expounded on why all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is sin. The following words, a direct quote from the sermon, are stunningly courageous and truthful (emphasis mine).
"The point is that the gospel does meddle with our lives! If we take Jesus' words seriously, not just that adultery is sin, or that lust is adultery; the point is that as far as the biblical understanding of human sexuality is concerned, any and all deviation from the parable given in Genesis and referenced by Jesus, whether within heterosexual or homosexual relationships, is sin, is contrary to the will of God. And no theological or exegetical sleight of hand can erase that "word of the Lord."The good news, Phillips continued, was that God forgives, just as Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery. Yet, though Jesus accepted the woman personally, there was no affirmation of her adulterous and immoral behavior, for Phillips rightly pointed out that "after saying 'neither do I condemn thee,' (Jesus) goes back to the inescapable parable from Genesis, and says to each of us, whatever our sexual orientation, 'Go and sin no more.'
This, dear readers, is from the progressive pastor of the liberal Riverside Church in Manhattan.
Who is Dr. Phillips Channing? You may not know that he was the first black man ever to be officially nominated at a Democratic National Convention to be President of the United States. He was powerful civil-rights leader, a prominent theologian, and a national political figure--and he had the courage of his convictions to speak the truth. Dr. Phillips Channing died two years after preaching his message on human sexuality at the tender age of 59. One of these days I will write a post on the number of courageous, loving truth-tellers who have died at the age of 59.
Though Dr. Channing is dead, yet he speaks.
Jonathan Merritt, be encouraged. We look forward to hosting you at Emmanuel Enid. You are a living, breathing testimony that the good news is for sinners, not for people who are offended with the label 'sin.'