Ben Thinkin’ #2: Baking Cakes For Gay Weddings, Endorsing Sin, and Withdrawing Without Elders
[The Ben Thinkin’ series is a venue for answering questions my readers have submitted. I answer several questions in each post. If you would like to submit questions for future Ben Thinkin’ posts, please leave a comment at the end of the article.]
1. Cindy asks: Can a church without elders practice withdrawal of fellowship from impenitent members?
Yes. I was once a member of a church without elders, and at the time we were forced to withdraw from a divisive and physically abusive man. Though painful (as every instance of this kind of discipline should be), we gathered all the men of the congregation together, discussed the situation, drafted a letter, and then every man signed it. We withdrew from this brother (after all other attempts to save his soul were exhausted) – meaning as a congregation we formally recognized he was lost, was no longer in fellowship with God, and thus could no longer be in fellowship with us (cf. 1 John 1:7) – and we did so without elders.
Christians who are members of churches without elders have the same responsibility as churches with elders to withdraw from impenitent and divisive members. 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14; and Romans 16:17 are written to all Christians, regardless of whether or not they have elders to lead them in this sad, but honorable endeavor. Withdrawing from an impenitent member is a congregational matter, not an eldership matter exclusively. Yet, the church needs to be led in this action. Elders are able to unify the church and guide the process with their wisdom (cf. 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1). This is one reason why every church needs elders (cf. Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5); we need their shepherding as we carry out this biblical command (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2-3; Heb. 13:17).
2. Hiram asks: How does a Christian balance refraining from endorsing sin while still being loving and evangelistic? For example, if one has a homosexual family member and has told them they view their practice as sinful, should a Christian refrain from all family gatherings this person may attend with their mate? As another example, if someone in your family unscripturally divorced and is about to remarry, should a Christian still attend their wedding?
This can be a very emotionally difficult question to answer. Christians are to show love for one another and the lost (cf. 1 John 5:1; Mark 12:31), and are to attempt to rescue people from their sins (Jas. 5:20; Jude 1:22-23). Additionally, it is difficult to share the gospel with others (cf. Matt. 5:13-16) if you are endorsing their sin (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14; Rom. 1:32). As a Christian, I should never communicate to a loved one – verbally or by my actions – “I’m okay with your sinful lifestyle.” For this reason, Paul writes,
I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person. (1 Cor. 5:11)
I do not believe a Christian family member should eat (or engage in a family gathering) with a spiritual brother or sister who is openly impenitent over any sin – whether that sin is homosexuality, slander, a form of idolatry, or any other sin. Sin is sin. Additionally, I do not believe a Christian should support an adulterous marriage by attending the wedding of someone who knows it is wrong. I do not want to stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) knowing I showed support for a marriage that was not approved in heaven.
It defeats the purpose of “not even eating with such a person” (1 Cor. 5:11) and deciding not to attend an adulterous wedding ceremony if you are not willing to communicate to the person(s) the reason for your absence. God has called us to holiness, not cowardice. The love of Christ compels Christians to compassionately rebuke those in sin (cf. Jas. 5:20; Luke 17:3; &c).
3. Susan asks: Should a Christian business person refuse business to a known homosexual couple? If not, where do you draw the line? If a Christian does business with other sinners, should this kind be any different? And what if the government “forces” us to provide services when our conscience says not to do it?
First, if God’s law is opposed to man’s law, God’s law must always trump the commands of government (Acts 5:29). From a Christian business owner’s perspective, this means being willing to close my business, pay a fine, or go to jail – all for the sake of obeying my Lord.
Second, while Christians must share the gospel with our sinful world (cf. Matt. 5:13-16; Rom. 10:14; 1 Cor. 5:9-11), Christians cannot support the sin in people’s lives (Rom. 1:32; Eph. 5:11).
Third, business interactions do not automatically endorse sin in the life of those with whom you are doing business. For example, I do not believe the mailman who delivers mail to the house of an abortionist is endorsing the abortionist’s lifestyle. I do not believe the plumber who fixes the sink in the house of a drunkard is endorsing the sin of drunkenness.
Fourth, knowing where to draw the line between a mere business transaction and sin endorsement is a matter of judgment (cf. John 7:24). Some business dealings do imply a level of moral endorsement. Filming a pornographic movie, for example, constitutes an endorsement of what is being filmed. As a wedding photographer, I feel as though I would be endorsing homosexuality by photographing a gay wedding. As a baker, I feel as though I would be supporting the sinful union of a homosexual couple if I baked their wedding cake. Why would this be wrong for me? Because I feel I would be contributing to the glorification of the sin itself (cf. Jas. 4:4, 17).
Fifth, it would be highly inconsistent for me to refuse service (i.e. baking, photography) to a homosexual couple while engaging in the same kind of business with an adulterous heterosexual couple. In God’s eyes, the man who is married to the woman who has no scriptural right to be married (cf. Matt. 19:9; Rom. 7:2-3) is every bit as sinful as the man who is married to another man (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Rom. 1:26-27).
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