[Part I here]
I watched much of the debate at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly (CWA), and I was struck by a number of things. There was a lot of sharing of personal stories, experiences, and emotional appeals for one side or the other. Those things can be very convincing, because no one wants to be callous or mean-spirited to those who have been truly hurt by some action or word. But the confusion and the fuzzy thinking were palpable. What is sin? What does it mean to abide by God’s Law? How did Jesus act toward sinners? How should the Church act toward sinners? How should sinners act toward sinners? Who is being hypocritical? Who is resisting the Holy Spirit? All of these were brought up implicitly or explicitly. (In fact, one blatant and inexcusable instance was a pastor who strongly implied that those who opposed the social statement or ministry recommendations were guilty of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.) The purpose of this letter is to give a brief overview of what we confess with the Scriptures about sexuality and sin.
We, in line with all the Scriptures, believe that all humans are born sinful and in need of salvation. There is no distinction; all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:22b-23). Because all have sinned and none can find his own way back to God or repair that broken relationship, God has come to us: Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary and was born, lived, died, rose again, and ascended to fulfill the will of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, the Holy Spirit calls each and every sinner by the Gospel to believe and trust in Jesus, and be reconciled through the blood of Jesus to the Father as His children. All sinners must trust Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins, being baptized into the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; there is no salvation outside of the Name of Jesus, which He shares with His Father and the Spirit.
That is true for all sinners, regardless of what they have done or left undone. But what does it mean for those sinners who are in bondage to particular sins? We should recognize that all sinners have “pet sins” to which they are tempted to return again and again. Sin is an addiction, like any other addiction, and we are never fully cured in this life. We are all “recovering sinners” until death, and the great hope and confidence of Christians is that our bodies will one day be raised free of sin and free of temptation. Until then, we who are dead to sin and alive to God are called to continual warfare with our own sin and to continual confession and absolution for our own sin (e.g., Romans 6:12-14). Whether the sin to which we are particularly vulnerable is theft, gossip, covetousness, drunkenness, pornography, or homosexual intercourse, the answer is always the same: repent and believe in the Gospel. Before God’s righteousness, there is no difference between one sin and another, and there is no solution but confession and absolution, along with faithful use of the Word of God, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer—all of which take place at the foot of the cross. These are the Christian’s weapons of warfare.
Pr. Timothy Winterstein