For too many centuries churches have been in the condemnation
business. Other sins are mentioned but the main target has been our
sexual behavior. Admittedly the condemnation is quickly followed by
the assurance that the denomination can give absolution to the
penitent. This may require confession to a priest, or some form of
public or private admission of sin.
We have forgotten the conclusion of Paul's argument about freedom from
the Old Testament law : "There is therefore now condemnation for those
who are in the Messiah Jesus" (Romans 8:1). This does not do away with
morality. What remains are the consequences of any kind of behavior.
(bad consequences are called wrath). As Jesus said to the woman caught
in adultery, "Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on
do not sin again" (John 8:11).
The problem with condemnation is that God is brought in as the
authority for the disapproval. And that leaves no room for the
condemned person to answer back. All he or she can do is ignore the
one, or the denomination, that does the condemning. That inevitably
results in unbelief and a despising of God's love. But a setting out
of consequences allows us to evaluate the force of the reasons for not
engaging in any kind of behavior. We can also discuss questions of
right and wrong without claiming divine insight.
This is very important in the raising of children. They can cope with
reasons for not doing this or that. But threatening them with eternal
damnation is never a helpful way to make our point.
If a person is sleeping around (which the Bible calls porneia or
prostitution) we can discuss reasonably the health or moral dangers of
doing this. And we will have many who may not be Christians who will
agree with us. Paul describes the consequences when a man or woman
leaves a marriage relationship to have a gay or lesbian relationship.
He goes on to list "envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness" and
other kinds of behavior such as gossip, slander, God-hating,
insolence, haughtiness, boasting, inventing evil. These are sins we
can all fall into carelessly from time to time. We know that each kind
of sin is detestable and Paul adds that "those who practice such
things deserve to die" (Romans 1:26-32). But he does not bring in God
to threaten those who do such things with eternal damnation. In each
case reasonable people will agree with the bad consequences of each
item in this list of bad behavior.
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