“And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Although the Apostle John is often referred to as the Apostle of love, the Apostle Paul is certainly no slouch in this matter either! Paul, who consistently preached grace and faith, saw that “love” was the means and goal of living the Christian life as befits one who is a true disciple of Christ, and not a mere churchgoer.
The quest for unity that Jesus prayed to God for His Church (John 17:21) comes about by each of us faithfully fulfilling our God-ordained ministries. Each of us, LGBT or Straight, has been given by God our unique roles, all of which are to dovetail with each other, so that the whole body of the Church is built up as an instrument of Christ to be an agent of God’s grace in this world; to be God’s instrument of love, which is to also be true of each of God’s children who are His disciples.
God is certainly “ not the author of confusion, but of peace .” (1Corinthians 14:33) Therefore, although our ministries may well be different, and may well tackle subjects that are different from the ministries of some others, those ministries are not to be contradictory to each other; are not to be causes of enmity between Christians; are not to cause confusion; are not to in any way water down or distort the Gospel of grace (God’s unmerited favor.), the only Gospel to be found in Christianity.
The goal of our collective ministries is to depict a glimpse of the vision of the Kingdom of God on this earth, recognizing that the actual Kingdom of God, the New Jerusalem, will have to wait until we are translated from this sin-cursed world to heaven in which God has prepared a place for each of His children. Our individual ministries are to exhibit love; our collective ministries are to also express love and unity, so that all people can see that we are a “peculiar people” sold out to God, to God’s concerns, and to God’s will and work in this world.
God’s Word makes it clear that there is unity in diversity! Indeed, God specializes in diversity! So, God in His wisdom makes all sorts of people with all sorts of disparate characteristics, including that of sexual orientation.
As Paul wrote, “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.” (1Corinthians 12:12, 14-18)
In other words, when it comes to our ministries, one size doesn’t fit all! Indeed, we are each called upon to fulfill certain ministries that befits God’s calling of each of us based upon His sovereign knowledge of us, a knowledge that far transcends our knowledge of ourselves; certainly far transcends our knowledge of each other.
God made His own LGBT children and has given them as gifts to the Church and to society, just as He has made His own Straight children and given them as gifts to the Church and to society. No one is to ever ignore or deny that fact for to do so not only seeks to limit the sovereign will and work of God, but throws God’s grace and creation back in His face, thereby committing a grievous sin!
Whether a person denies the dignity of another based upon sexual orientation, or denies one’s own dignity as a person of God based upon his or her sexual orientation, he or she is both denying him/herself an “abundant life,” and is also denying the sovereignty, graciousness, and love of our God who specializes in the diversity of His creation!
God knows what He’s doing, and we are not to let cultural values that embody and extol as a virtue hetero-normativity or the status quo that are frequently antithetical to the values of God, or allow other people, even professing Christians, to either define our realities for us, or to tell us what ministries we are to seek to fulfill. God has made those decisions for us, and we commit a grave sin if we choose to listen to other professing Christians, even well meaning ones, regarding the lives we live or the ministries we are to undertake and seek to fulfill.
Our sovereign, frequently inscrutable, God, knows what He wants in this world; knows what He wants from each of His children; knows what He wants to be the ministry that He has implanted in His child’s mind, and those of us who do our very best to follow our Lord and Master, Jesus, are not to allow any other person, professing Christian or not, to eclipse or contradict God’s call on any part of our lives, let alone the ministry that God has ordained for, and communicated to, each of those whom He chose from the foundation of the world to be His agents of grace and love in and through our very lives and in and through the ministries He and He alone has ordained for each of us.
No better place is this truth hammered home than in the story related in 1Kings 13:7-26 that deals with “the lying prophet!” This is a very strange story, and one that we rarely, if ever, hear preached about.
Briefly put, after the “man of God” appealed to the Lord to restore King Jeroboam’s hand to its normal state, “ the king said unto the man of God, Come home with me, and refresh thyself, and I will give thee a reward.” (v. 7) The man of God initially refused, and said to the King that he was charged “ by the word of the Lord, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest.” (v. 9)
When “the lying prophet” made the man of God the same offer of hospitality, the man of God reiterated God’s command to him. However, the lying prophet lied to the man of God and, “He said to him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the Lord, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied to him.” (v. 18)
Unfortunately, the man of God believed this lying prophet “ and did eat bread in his house, and drank water” (v. 19), thereby not listening to God but chose to listen to another prophet. The rest of the story shows how the man of God came to a bad end because he chose to listen to another prophet rather than listen to God’s unique command and call on his life.
Whether this story is historically accurate or not is beside the point. It seems to me that its main value is that this account is metaphorically crucial for all of God’s children to take to heart, as this story gets at the very crux of our cold turkey choice: are our lives and ministries to be directed by other fallible human beings and/or by the secular and “religious” values of the given society in which one lives, or are our ministries to be directed by God and by God alone?
Put another way, are we to listen to God or are we to listen to people? Do we tenaciously adhere to the status quo, follow the pack, and do what is seemingly culturally appropriate and approved by others, even other professing Christians, or do we listen to God’s voice in His directing us in the unique paths each of us is to follow?
When Peter and other Apostles were told by God to go to the Temple and preach the Gospel, and some religious leaders put them in prison for so doing, and they were then miraculously freed from that prison, and they then again disobeyed the religious leaders and, rather, obeyed God and preached in the Temple, they were again confronted by the High Priest and other religious leaders and were told, “ Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:28-29)
Here, Peter and the other Apostles did what all of God’s children are called upon to do in the uniqueness of their lives and ministries: they spoke truth to power! They said that they would obey God and not mere man, not mere religious (or any other) powers. God was their priority, not anything or anyone else, no matter how fearsome or overwhelming the opposition!
They willingly placed themselves in great jeopardy, even risking death, for listening to God and not to the conventional religious “wisdom,” and most did suffer death for the faith, but they insistently maintained their testimony, “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree. Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.” (Acts 5:30-32)
Each one of us is to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News, that Jesus came to save us from the eternal consequences of our sins; He became our sin-bearer; He is the propitiation for our sins; He is our Propitiatory; He is the unblemished Lamb Who was and is the only One worthy to take on our sins and have them separated from us as far as the east is from the west; He is our only means of being reconciled to a just, holy, and righteous God; through Jesus we are redeemed, justified, and made righteous; all people who trust the finished work of Christ on the Cross, and rest in the knowledge that they are saved solely by God’s grace, and recognize that our most laudable works, as wonderful as they may be, are far too inadequate to be of any value in aiding our salvation in any way, belong to God; God paid it all, and there is nothing we have to do, be we Gay or Straight, except to have implacable trust in our Sovereign God Who chose us before the worlds were formed to be His own possession; God alone is to direct the lives and ministries He has ordained for each one of His children.
“Salvation,” as wonderful as that fact is, is not the crucial issue here, as that fact has been taken care of 2,000 years ago on that Cross where we were “in Him” when He died, and so we “in Him” died as well. And dead men and women can’t sin! So, despite our many sins, we are reckoned by God as “righteous.”
What is at issue here is that just as we have been “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20), and that we are dead and our “ life is hid with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), we are to allow God to take our dead bodies and raise them up to new life by taking to heart our Baptism into His very own death and Resurrected life.
Our Resurrected life demands the fulfillment of our God-given ministry or ministries until God calls us home! We have been put on this earth to love each other, but we have not been put on this earth to necessarily please each other!
Many times our expressions of love may be viewed as quite the opposite by other people, even other professing Christians. Many times our ministries may be viewed as being anathema to the Christian life as it’s conventionally understood by some, or even by many, professing Christians.
These realities are not to be of any concern to us! By all means, we are to take counsel with Christians whom we respect, but it is our responsibility to ultimately decide what God wants for us, and we are not to confuse the reason for our making that decision with either our own desires, with what is deemed to be politically correct at the moment, or with the perceived expectations of others who profess to be Christians, regardless of their standing in the Church or in society.
Just as life is an experiment of one, in the Christian life, as in life itself, one size doesn’t fit all! We are to respect the God-given ministries of all of our brothers and sisters, and only confront, lovingly if possible and contentiously if necessary, those who pervert the Gospel of grace and love by seeking to impose their preconceived prejudices and values on the Gospel, thereby distorting the Gospel into a false gospel of legalism and perfectionism, that redounds to the perversion of Christianity in the minds of many, and to the perversion of the Gospel within the Church itself.
The saying, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity,” is a wonderful rule of thumb. The only caveat I have toward that excellent statement is when one obeys mere fallible human beings and not God; when one’s “ministry” perverts the Gospel of grace, the only Gospel to be found in Christianity, as such a perversion shows itself to be not of God, but of mere man, or even of the very devil himself.
So, let’s respect each other’s uniqueness and let’s respect the uniqueness of each other’s ministries. However, let’s make sure that each of our ministries exhibits God’s grace and love, the very essence of the Gospel, and does not manifest the harsh, censorious, judgmentalism that all too often exists in the guise of “Christianity.”
Such a false gospel of legalism, perfectionism, exclusion, frequently peppered with smugness, and self-righteousness, is diametrically opposed to Christianity. And that false gospel places yokes of bondage on others that is diametrically opposed to God’s will, as Jesus came to remove those very yokes of bondage from ourselves and from others, and thereby enable us to live the abundant life, and fulfill the ministries to which He has called each one of us.
And if our ministry is not borne of, and expressed in, love; if it doesn’t rely on and preach of God’s grace (unmerited favor), we are thwarting God’s will for ourselves, for others to whom we seek to minister, and for our ministries to which He has called us.
And at that last day, when we look back on our lives and ministries, it would be a profound tragedy if we realized that we were really mere people-pleasers, and that we didn’t have the faith to follow God’s plan for our lives, and fulfill the ministry, regardless of how unpopular it may have been, that He uniquely ordained for us.
None of the Apostles (save Judas) and other heroes of faith ever had to face that profound sense of tragedy! Let’s you and I use them as role models so that when our time is up we can take heart in knowing that we did our best to follow God’s plan for our lives, that be we LGBT or Straight, we were authentic in living our lives as God made us and directed us, and that we were not distracted or co-opted by the wiles of mere human beings or of the devil himself!
Rev. Dr. Jerry S. Maneker, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at California State University, Chico, served as an ordained priest in the Congregational Catholic Church, a division of the Independent Catholic Churches International (ICCI). For many years he published a weekly column in the Sacramento Valley Mirror titled “Christianity and Society,” where he dealt with a variety of social issues from a biblical and sociological perspective. Maneker also published a blog called “A Christian Voice for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Rights” and the website Radical Christianity.