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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Gay Pagans Leading Worship

So today in class, we actually had an interesting (and true) case study:
Bob is not a Christian, but he's been hired by the church to play piano for Sunday worship - it's a small congregation and there are no resident pianists. Bob is an excellent musician, competant, and the people really like him. He has had a very positive influence on the singing and praise. Then, you hear rumblings through the grapevine - rumor has it that Bob is gay. What do you do?
Needless to say, this made for some very interesting discussion. One of the things that interested me was how many folks could live with the fact that he was an unbeliever, but felt that his homosexuality disqualified him from this role. Maybe it's just the evangelistic church planter in me, but I actually see this as a tremendous opportunity for sharing the gospel, not just to Bob, but to others just like him and even to those who are already believers. Let me see if I can explain...

In Leadership Next, Eddie Gibbs makes a very interesting comment about the boundaries in the context of postmodern community:
Authentic community begins with the frank recognition that loose connections are not robust enough to provide cohesion. There must be strong bonds of mutual commitment that will endure times of strain and upheaval. Unconditional commitments are not made within alliances of convenience...

Until we find a home and establish a family identity, authentic community is unlikely to develop. The covenant community provides a context within which individuals can find affirmation and learn to truly forgive. It is an environment of giving as well as receiving. In community we also hold each other accountable, because affirmation that lacks discernment and integrity is destructive to the other person.

Authentic community has porous boundaries. Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers provide hepful insights into the way boundaries function in living systems. Rather than being self-protective walls, boundaries become the place of meeting and exchange. We usually think of these "edges" as the means of defining separateness: what's inside and what's outside. But in living systems, boundaries are something quote different. They are where new relationships take form, and important place of exchange and growth.
-Leadership Next, p99
I think Gibbs is on to something here, and I think it applies to our case study. For me, the fact that Bob is gay is actually secondary - it's certainly not unimportant, but it's not primary either. If anything, it may actually create an opportunity for a much deeper dialogue with the gay community. Let me see if I can illustrate...

Contrary to most of those in our group in class, I can envision certain scenarios where I actually would seek out an unbeliever to help us in worship (probably not as a “leader” but certainly as an “instrumentalist”). To me, this presents a very natural entry point to conversation – about what we value, about what he values. I would want to meet regularly with Bob to help explain a Christian understanding of worship - "What are we trying to accomplish here anyway? Why?”

What I mean by this, is that I wouldn't overlook the fact that he is an unbeliever. Rather, that provides a convenient point of dialogue - he is a piano player (we are not), but we are Christians (and he is not). So he needs to help us understand what he can do, and we need to help him understand what we are trying to do - lead people in worship of God. Which means we need to talk about what worship is, about who God is, about what he values.

Now, taking this approach, the fact that he is gay simply provides one more avenue to discuss the differences in our value systems. The fact that we need him gives us a reason to work together. The fact that we believe very different things gives us a reason to discuss our differences.

So then, his homosexuality provides a great opportunity for me to say something like this:
“What do you think, Bob? Because we want to be faithful to Jesus and Paul, we believe that certain actions (like your homosexuality) are morally wrong. However, we also believe that God does not accept us because we are straight - heck, we are still struggling sinners in areas that are just as morally wrong (like my anger and pride).

So what makes the difference? Scripture tells us the only reason God accepts us is when we identify with Christ through repentance (acknowledging we are wrong) and faith (putting all our confidence in him to make us right). That's our identity as a community of Christ followers.

Of course, we recognize you may still be in process. Now, we want to emphasize in our worship that there are rights and wrongs. But we also want to emphasize that people in process just like you are welcome in our midst, even before they have it all figured out.

So your being gay does not preclude you from helping us worship by using your God given gifts of music. There are some things you probably can't do as an unbeliever (like lead us in prayer), but there are many things you can do. That is an important part of our message.

At the same time, we are concerned for you – not because you are gay and we want to change you, but of where you stand in your relationship with Christ.

Because we care, we want to encourage you to consider Christ, because he is the center of our identity, he is at the core of what makes us community, we would love to have you really belong. So we want you to feel welcome.

But because we care, we also want you to feel the tension that Christ brings against all of us as sinners, when we refuse to acknowledge his claims on our lives.

So that's what we want to model in our worship. How are we doing? What would your gay friends think? Would you be willing to invite them? Even if you never become a Christian, you might still be able to help us figure out how to articulate this message better...”
See how his unbelief and gayness creates opportunity for dialogue? Now, I'm not saying that I would necessarily do this in every case – I think there is a tremendous need for wisdom in these matters – but I think there may well be cases where this kind of thing might not only be permissible, it might well be the best way to contextualize our faith to a pluralistic unbelieving world.

Ok, so that was my take. I'll put my flame retardent hazard suit on and let you fire away now...

(and I'd really love it if someone gay could chime in w/ their perspective on this)


At 10:42 AM, January 26, 2006, Blogger Daniel Nairn said...

A good friend of mind is serving as a worship leader for a PCA church plant in Boston, and this issue as come up more than once for him. It especially seemed to be the case with drummers.

(probably not as a “leader” but certainly as an “instrumentalist”)

This was the approach that he ended up with, and it hinged on the question of who was designated as a church leader. We both agreed that this arrangement could allow for a wonderful picture of God's grace to an unbeliever who may be expecting persecution instead. However, putting an unbeliever up front (gay or not) in a service may send the message, whether intentional or not, that worship time is more about the music itself than about praising God.

At 2:14 PM, January 26, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Hey Daniel - excellent points, and it illustrates the need for wisdom in these things. A lot of times we can so focus on what we are trying to say about one thing that we can sometimes miss what we might unintentionally be saying about another.

What would be ideal in a case like this is to actually work through this type of thing with the unbeliever in such a way that he/she actually came to the conclusion.

What's a little more problematic is when we simply jump to a conclusion about what someone can/can't do without thinking about the message we are sending along w/ that conclusion. (Or even worse, never bothering to question the issue in the first place).

I think taking the time to talk like this with unbelievers can be extremely helpful in breaking down stereotypes (both for us and them) and in really clarifying the gospel message - what IS our gospel?

Good stuff. I was beginning to wonder if anyone would comment ;-)

At 8:34 PM, January 26, 2006, Blogger Greg said...

pretty much along those same lines, I just wanted to point out that who is aprticipating in the worship service says alot about the worship itself.

For instance, my wedding ceremony was a worship service, and as such i would not have chosen anyone to be in my wedding party who was engaged in a sexually sinful relationship, or have my good friend who is a homosexual sing during the worship service - those things would have made a mockery of the worship that was going on there.

Even though those people may not have been 'leading' persay, they were up there representative of what was happening in the room - God's people desiring His presence, to meet with Him.

The same thing goes Sunday morning. Regardless of the guys homosexuality, the fact that he was an unbeliever was more of a problem for me. Obviously if he was a believer and practicing homosexuality, a different conversation would need to be had, but in that situation you have a starting point to move forward on.

but anyway, I'm getting tangental - I feel that to have unbelievers participating in the worship of God at best a bad example, at worst a mockery of the worship of God. my $.02

At 8:55 PM, January 26, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Good comments, Greg! Probably worth more than a mere $.02...

[Aside: The relative silence on this post makes me wonder if I've completely freaked people out, or if it's just a matter of no-one reading ;-)]

The wedding raises an interesting question. We speak of it as worship (I think rightly so), and yet we sometimes marry unbelievers or let them participate. So if its "worship" then that raises some interesting questions...

As for me, I've decided I will gladly marry unbelievers - but that's the evangelist in me. It's just such a great opportunity to make connections w/ unbelievers. And I am always looking for ways to connect with unbelievers and extend the relationship.

And as for the presence of unbelievers tainting the worship - what about the unbelievers sitting in the pews? In other words, what's the theological principle that says an unbeliever playing an instrument somehow dishonors God while the unbeliever singing hymns in the pew (also 'playing an instrument') does not honor God. What's the difference? Isn't everyone in the service "participating in worship"? Yet I suspect very few churches would go so far as to say "If you are not a Christian, don't sing this next hymn".

Does the unbeliever taint the worship? Or does the worship of true believers somehow sanctify the praise of the unbeliever in their midst?

Of course at the root of this is the really important question: What makes our worship acceptable and pleasing? Our getting it right? Or Christ interceding on our behalf to perfect our worship? I suspect that the stronger our view of Christ's role in worship - that we worship well by being united to him in faith - the more freedom and liberty we will have in our worship, possibly even to allow unbelievers help us with it.

Speaking of unbelievers helping us with worship - what about the folks who install the sound system? Or build the building? They are contributing to our worship too, making it all possible (albeit in an indirect way)... do they have to be Christians too then?

I hope none of this comes across as contentious or anything. I just think its very healthy to ask lots of questions and think about the implications. I think sometimes in the church we are afraid to ask "outside the box" type questions because we are afraid we might get the "wrong" answers (and then -*gasp* - what would all the right people think about us?)

In your case, Greg, your response did a great job of further stimulating my own thinking. Well done! Come on folks, let's have someone else too!

At 8:56 PM, January 26, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Whoops, that last line should have read 'Let's _hear_ from someone else too'...

At 9:25 PM, January 26, 2006, Blogger rs said...

my wife and i had a great discussion about this tonight. it's something i've been giving a lot of thought to lately as we've contemplated inviting someone to play guitar for our small group who may not be a believer.

my wife brought up a very interesting point tonight. what about youth leading worship? in our reformed tradition, youth are members of the community through baptism and therefore we need to teach them how to worship. they need to participate in worship themselves and our church actually has a youth group band that sometimes plays for Sunday worship (though an adult leads them).

many of the youth that are attracted to the band are questionable whether or not they grasp the gospel yet. but i'd be willing to bet none of us have a problem with them playing for Sunday worship services. in fact it is a way we minister to families. parents desperately want their children to find a place in the church and this is a way for them to serve the broader community - but they may not be believers yet.

i guess i agree with what christian is saying about people in process. none of us, if we are truly honest, has any right to lead others into the throne room of the king. but that king is a king of mercy - the head of the church - who leads us in himself.

moreover, i'd like to point out that there is a lot more freedom in worship for the new covenant people of God. Jesus himself broke laws of worship (the sabbath) in order to minister to people.

another point i have been considering is recorded worship music. what if you are a small congregation and the best you can do is playing a cd in the background? what if the person who recorded that cd is an unbeliever? the fact is we assume they are. we don't know one way or another about the person who recorded that cd. i don't know about you, but some of my most intimate times of worship have been a long car ride by myself with recorded worship music.

when i am carried away by the spirit in worship, it is not the person playing the music who takes me there - it is the music and the truth of the words being as vehicles of the spirit.

anyway, just some thought since you wanted more input! i'm still muddling through what roles we allow unbelievers to play in our worship. in the example cited in the original post, i definitely think the issue should not be his homosexuality. if we allow unbelievers at all, we need to allow them warts and all.

the bottom line is that it is not the people leading that makes our worship pure and pleasing to God - it is the shed blood of Christ covering our worship as it ascends to God's ears.

And Greg, i'm not sure i agree with you that your wedding party would have made any mockery of the worship - the gospel is the focus - and it is never proclaimed more profoundly (Paul's words) than the triune god re-creating two sinners into a new creation - one flesh.

At 10:52 PM, January 26, 2006, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

This is an interesting issue and great topic for discussion... with the following guideline in place... the Bible does not REALLY portray this "role" or "rank" of "worship leader" as we in our churches today think of it and exercise it. Nowhere do we really see someone (or a group of someones) getting up in front of others to ACTUALLY LEAD THEM INTO a place of worshiping the Lord. I know it LOOKS like that in a few places - but that is not really what is happening...

What is happening is that the people who love Yahweh gather together and, out of sheer gratitude for WHO HE IS, and ALL HE HAS DONE and WILL CONTINUE TO DO, they cannot contain their jubilation! They HAVE to let out "their worship" of God! And to help them "get the ball rolling" are the musicians who, unless I misunderstand scripture, also share that same zeal for their Creator God.

But, in the end, they are JUST musicians! Nothing more! Yes, they are called by God to be the MAIN musicians - but they are not "the worship leaders" in the way we think of that term today...

We actually place far too much of an emphasis on our "worship leaders" and in many cases, we have actually ended up worshiping THEM instead of our Lord - this is called IDOLOTRY.

All that to say - I think each case is different and needs to be handled as such... I have a woman who sings on my team who I know has "a problem" with drinking too much... she also knows the Lord and is on the same journey I am on... As far as I know, nobody on my team is a blantant NON-believer... though I do sometimes wonder about about a few.

The question must come down to this - can God USE such struggling people to help inspire others to follow Him more closely?

I think He can and does! But I also think He gives us brains and the gift of discernment.

On the specific issue of homosexuality - I would view this the same as any KNOWN sin which someone CONTINUES to carry out without any sense of repentance. If someone HAD BEEN gay but has seen the light and has since repented, but still occasionally struggles, I'd let them be on the team. But that is the only way I'd allow it. Not because God can't work through them - but because of their highly visable leadership role.

Hope this all makes sense - it's given me more to think about tonight, as usual!

At 11:38 PM, January 26, 2006, Blogger rs said...


great comments and i think you've picked up on something I was thinking about - that our current model of a worship service is pretty cultural. when you read the reformers and church fathers, you never hear them speak of a worship leader. It is a phenomenon of modern evangelicalism and the invention of the microphone!

Dan Kimbal has a great book on this called "Emerging Worship" and though I confess I have not read it, what I have heard from it is this.

he explores the phenomenon of the worship service and argues that the church in the past functioned more out of its small groups. The sunday worship service was a large gathering of these small groups that each offered gifts of "service" to the other groups. For some groups, it was offering music that others could enjoy and participate in.

The only thing i would point out about your argument is that Scripture does speak a lot about elders whose job it is to protect the flock of God. It is their job to make sure that worship maintains truth and biblicity. So, in that sense, the elders are worship leaders. If they so choose to delegate the task of "leading" to someone who is not an elder, it is up to them to keep that person accountable to truth - in songs and prayers.

All that is to say that it seems the priority that Jesus put on worship is that it be by the spirit and true. i think if we make sure that unbelievers participate in a way that affirms the truths of Scripture, I don't see why they can't participate.

At the end of the day, though, I still like what Christian is saying about the potential for dialogue that could arise from allowing an unbeliever into the sacredness of what worship is. If an unbeliever truly understood the nature of worship, why we do it and what the purpose is, I think they would either convert - or wonder what the heck they are doing.

At 8:16 AM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Greg said...

Let's put the worship of an non-believer in context.

Psalm 50:16 But to the wicked God says: "What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?

Proverbs 15:26 The thoughts {"prayers" in some translations} of the wicked are an abomination to the LORD, but gracious words are pure.

And on and on in the psalms and proverbs about how God hates the wicked, etc...

So whether or not there are wicked in the pews is somewhat irrelevant to the point of this discussion. Of course we want unbelievers in our worship services because that is the only way they may cease to BE wicked and BECOME righteous by virtue of their union with Christ by faith that comes by hearing the word. HOWEVER, it is not UNTIL that UNION with Christ occurs that their presence in worship will have any kind of positive meaning for the worship of God on the corporate level.

parenthesis: individual prayers and songs (which are merely sung prayers) are to be understood differently. An unbeliever singing _with_ the church is singing as an INDIVIDUAL. The rest of the believing BODY is singing as exactly that, a Body - the corporate body of Christ.

So with that parenthesis and that said before it in mind, how are we to view the ubeliever in the _corporate_ worship of God?

I agree that in our culture we have established certain traditions that are not necessarily "bibilical" in the strictest sense, but it cannot be denied that the example Paul has set in the NT calls for real leadership in the worship of God. How that leadership works itself out in the church may vary in regards to music, and the like, but do not think that Paul would have allowed a gifted practicing homosexual to come and play in his worship service just because he played the Lute like a champ! I assure you he would have forgone the lute player altogether before allowing that.

Perhaps I am being a bit anachronistic in making that assertion, but based on how high Paul places the character of those who are sitting _in the pews_ (1 Corinthians) I doubt he would allow any such behavior in those who are leading the congregation in prayer - and be assured that the music of the church is the prayers of His people.

So, if I can try to wrap up this perhaps too long post...

If we set aside our modern 'invention', if you will, of the music 'leader' - remember what he is doing - he is really no different then the person who is leading the congregation in corporate prayer - what we have to remember here is that the unbelieving person who is 'leading' (in whatever fashion) is different than the unbelieving person in the pew.

And one other question i think it is importatnt to think about: If the unbeliever, participating (leading) in the worship of Yahweh, is NOT worshipping Yahweh, then who is he worshipping? And what does that say?

I've gone on too long, forgive me. And as Christian said, none of this is to be contentious, just trying to think rightly and biblically about the worship of God.

At 8:30 AM, January 27, 2006, Blogger rs said...


i completely agree with almost everything you said there. i agree that an unbeliever's worship is not acceptable to god. i agree that they should not "lead" and should not "pray." In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that until union with Christ happens they aren't even worshipping God. We can't even rightly call what they are doing worship.

With all of those concessions, i still think we can have an unbeliever playing on our worship teams. i honestly don't think we can say what paul would have done in this situation. the truth of the matter is that paul laid out the parameters for how leaders should govern, but the governance of the church is always about the mission of the church and paul expected there to be unbelievers in the communities of god.

i have to say that i'm still up in the air on a lot of this, but i just don't see how an unbeliever playing an instrument somehow inhibits or prfanes the worship of true believers whose worship is only made acceptable by the blood of Christ?

At 8:39 AM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Daniel Nairn said...

This discussion really has gotten interesting. Christian: maybe we hesitated to comment because you specifically asked for gays to weigh in.

Seeing how the Scriptures do not have a concept of "worship leader," at least certainly nothing like ordination or even naming deacons, I agree that we can't really be setting any canon law for all situations in all contexts. However,as part of the wisdom evaluation, I think the church ought to be asking itself hard questions about their worship priorities. There has been a significant push to professionalize all aspects of ministry in the last couple of decades, and this may especially be true for the musicians. We are all on a quest for "excellence." This is perfectly fine as a personal motivation to honor God with our talents, but is it pushing it too far to outsource what should be the congregation's responsibilities? I know this wasn't the example given by your Prof, Christian, but I think in most circumstances there may be talented people (even youth) in the congregation who are passed over for even more talently unbelievers. I have a hard time imagining the early gathering of believers putting an ad in the Antioch Times for a lyre player. Maybe this wasn't the situation you had in mind, but it does come up.

At 10:50 AM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Greg said...

just a point of clarification in light of today's class.

RE: weddings, et al - I do not see the bridal party as 'leading' in any way, and so I do not think it is inappropriate for unbelievers to be in the wedding party. I do think that having people living in sexual sin in the party does mock the marriage union, but that is really a different discussion.

To answer RS, I'm not really sure, generally speaking, if having an unbeliever playing an instrument in the worship service profanes the worship either. As an individual, perhaps they are no different than the individual unbeliever singing the hymn in the pew. However, when we start talking about specifics, and having them as the music team leaders, or any position that might be viewed as a leadership position by the rest of the congregation, we have to take great care in the example being put forth. I would not say that it is wrong in all circumstances, but real wisdom must be used and a rpoper view and understanding of what is happening in worship must be had by all.

It's been an interesting discussion. Thanks to all. I also agree with what Daniel Nairn says right above me. We should be looking internally first for ALL our leadership and worship participation.

At 11:13 AM, January 27, 2006, Blogger rs said...

Yes Greg I totally agree - I guess what we've all really been saying is that unbelievers can participate, but we have to be very careful how. We can't empower them to a position where they 1) become a stumbling block to the rest of the congregation; and 2) influence the content of the worship.

I also agree that unbelievers should be used in this way only as a last resort - we can't sever an arm of the body in favor of a prosthetic! Members of the church need to be encouraged to serve the rest of the congregation.

One last comment and I'll quit posting (and dominating) this conversation. I think in the example Christian cited, the thing to do there is remove Bob from playing the piano until you can get the whole congregation on board with what is going on there. He has become a stumbling block to the congregation. At the same time, we have to be careful what kind of precedent we set by doing that. By doing so are we also discouraging other believers who might have "public gifts" from being honest with each other about sin b/c they are afraid they might not get to play anymore? We might be surprised what kinds of things our current worship "leaders" are struggling with. How would it affect our worship if we knew?

At 12:19 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Great comments, one and all.

1. Daniel, do you (or anyone else here) have any gay friends who would be willing to comment on this from their perspective?

2. I think as a general principle, God provides people from within the body to lead the rest of the body in worship. So as a general rule, you use your own. Or you hire a Bob to help out as an interim measure, and part of his responsibility is to be training people in the church to replace him.

(Please note, when I say hire - I don't EVER envision having a music minister. I have much more of a per diem situation in view. If you are going to "hire" someone as in "put them on staff", this becomes a much different conversation)

3. The main point of all this is really not the issue of having an unbeliever in worship - it's about the concept Gibbs was talking about as boundaries as porous, places of conversation and change, rather than hard and exclusive. That's my main point. I think this example just illustrates that nicely.

4. Greg, regarding God hating the wicked, etc - you are right that in under the old covenant, worship was a big deal and there were a lot of ways to screw it up. Not only was sin an issue, but if you were lame, or had skin disease, or crushed testicles, or were a Gentile, you were excluded from the temple. Impurity is a very big issue indeed, and some people today still take this _really_ seriously.

My brother once attended a church where they would tell women to stay home from worship if they were having their monthly period. They took seriously the old testament teachings on how menstruation rendered a woman impure - they didn't want such women defiling their worship. People like this might well cite the very verses you listed (plus a whole lot more) and say "Amen brother. But you don't go nearly far enough, btw..."

My brother very wisely asked, "So what about Jesus? I thought he purified us? Are there some things his blood didn't cover?" This is the great question, because it highlights the key issue - does Jesus saving just give us the _ability_ to offer up pure worship on our own, or does he actually _sanctify our worship itself_?

You can probably guess that I come down on the latter (actually both). I just happen to think that Christ's intercessory work is SO sufficient that we can't muck it up, as long as we are seeking to obey him in faith.

So let's say I'm really wrong on this (eg. we shouldn't let an unbeliever do anything in a church service) - I believe that as long as I am coming to this conclusion by humbly approaching Scripture, and am putting all my confidence in Christ (rather than in my own 'getting it right w/ regards to worship') - then I believe Christ will sanctify my imperfect worship and it will still be pleasing to God.

Let's state the converse just to illustrate. If I have the 'right' form of worship, and approach God by placing my confidence in the rightness of my form, rather than the rightness of Christ interceding on my behalf, I believe this worship is actually blasphemous because I am trusting in something other than Christ.

In other words, even if I am a gold club member in the Perfectest Church in America, and I can read Greek and Hebrew and have the perfect liturgy - YET if I am offering my worship out of confidence in the rightness of my worship, rather than love for Christ and faith in him to make my worship right, well then I'm a clanging gong and God will find my worship appalling.

5. I wouldn't pull Bob from worship until we got things sorted out - I wouldn't put him there in the first place until we had already thought through all these things and the leadership was on board. And then I would deal with the issue from the pulpit to make sure everyone understands why this is ok. And I would NEVER put Bob into a position like that without explaining to him first what we think - that simply wouldn't be fair to him.

Thanks for all your comments guys...

At 12:29 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Funny timing - David Wayne has a little piece today called Still Trying to Get the Gospel that actually pertains to what we are talking about here.

Basically, his point is that is salvation is of grace, so is our justification. To which I would agree and add, 'and so is our worship.'

At 1:20 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger rs said...

Well said Christian. You've put it much better than I.

As for the reference back to Bob - I agree with you, but that's not the situation in the case study - Bob was already in position before his homesexuality came out, so I was just offering what I would do to remedy the current situation.

Great stuff. Cheers.

At 2:00 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Daniel Nairn said...

Christian, I would honestly not be comfortable bringing this up with the one gay person I know here. I think it's great that you are seeking their perspective, and I made the comment only as a little jab at my own initial insecurities in not wanting to appear gay by responding.

Funny aside: a little while after posting the last comment, the pastor of my church called to ask me, a decidedly NOT professional guitar player, to join them for Sunday services. The pastors are both new and trying to ease the older congregation into a tiny bit of contemporary music.

At 2:05 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Hey, this is actually interesting: Mark Driscoll (who is considered by some to be emerging) has just teed off on Brian McLaren for waffling on homosexuality.

I find it refreshing to hear someone with emerging inclinations speak out this strongly on something, and yet still have these kinds of people in his church.

And when I talk about boundaries as an opportunity for convservation, I see that conversation being pretty open, honest, and blunt. If we did have a Bob playing music w/ us, he'd still be hearing me speak from the pulpit of homosexuality as a sin, just as the people in the pews would be hearing me call them to welcome people like Bob into their homes, families, friendships. I think we can find a way for both boldness and compassion to go hand in hand (and the emerging movement does seem to have a problem with the boldness part).

Alos, I have a feeling that homosexuality may become the new evangelical litmus test (whereas in the past it was 'inerrancy'). It's going to be interesting to see how the emerging movement responds.

Sorry for getting a bit off topic here...

At 2:07 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Hey Daniel, I think you should ask them, "So, would you have any problem with me playing if I was a gay unbeliever?"

Sorry, I just couldn't resist. :-)

It would be interesting to hear their response though...

At 5:20 PM, January 27, 2006, Anonymous Don Smith said...

Excellent post. One thing I've learned after 25 years as church pianist/organist is that Christ's finished work overcomes my shortcomings. He may not hear the prayer of an unbeliever, but he has mercy on the believing sinner. If we didn't have gays playing the piano, we'd be limited to pastors' wives (and their behavior can be abominable sometimes, too).

I finally left the "straight" church when I realized that they were, though their unbalanced emphasis on certain scriptures and outright ignorance of others, condemning people made in God's image to a condition God hates: loneliness. As a condition of acceptance by the straight church, gays have to agree to celibacy - a condition far more unnatural than homosexuality, and the first thing God ever said was "not good".

As for having a known, active homosexual as part of a music ministry team, all brethren in Christ are invited to worship together. Please make sure your church policy is consistent in dealing with "known and notorious sin". If you check out Paul's example in I Cor., you may notice that the situation he recommended for excommunication was public knowledge, and so eggregious that EVEN THE PAGANS IN THE COMMUNITY WERE SHOCKED at the conduct. We can keep the Lord's commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves without running afoul of Paul's instructions to dis-fellowship notorious "sinners" if we recognize that we are not required to apply his precedent beyond the facts presented.

The community out there is more tolerant of same sex relationships than ever in the past, and we don't have to worry about endangering our opportunity for evangelism by bringing disrepute to the Gospel for accepting gay individuals and even couples in our churches. Notorious promiscuity, wanton fornication, etc. should not be accepted, but we should not condemn people to loneliness or make them feel like outsiders because of who they love -- that will drive them away from the church, and often the Gospel as well.

At 11:23 PM, January 27, 2006, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

I like all the comments about non-believers coming face to face with the actual worship of the Living God... ain't that what was happening all over the book of Acts? I mean - those 3000 who were saved "that day" were not follower of Christ, right? But they found themselves in the midst NOT "of church" but of the Body of Christ BEING the Body of Christ (waves my hand toward George Barna, wondering if he'll notice.) And when these early non-Christians came face to face with the wonder, the glory, the awesomeness and the saving grace of Christ - they were changed! And it's not cuz of the great "Evangelism Program!" It was because they actually, truly, really ENCOUNTERED the life-changing presence of Jesus Christ in the Power of the Holy Spirit...

And if it can happen with them, it can happen with non-believers of today, too!

At 8:07 PM, January 28, 2006, Blogger Eowyn's Heir said...

...because one thing an unbeliever can NOT do is worship. it goes against his very being...if he worshipped God, he wouldn't be a pagan. so how can any unbeliever, however talented, "lead" worship in any capacity?
my 2 cents. =D
--christina (Furman University)

At 11:06 AM, January 29, 2006, Blogger Dan McGowan said...

Christina, I've wrestled with that same question for years - I really have. And, to be honest, I am not 100% sure where I "stand" on the issue... One way I have worked it through is to consider WHO it is who REALLY "leads worship." Is it not the Holy Spirit? I mean, it's not REALLY me at the piano "leading" worship - - I am simply a facilitator of the music leadership... and, yes, the more tuned in I am to the Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the more I will be equipped to help keep us "on track" with the Lord. However, even when I have not had a good morning - even moments before the worship service begins - somehow, the Holy Spirit takes over and we still end up worshiping the Lord. This is NOT because of my leadership, but the leadership of the Holy Spirit.

Now - one thing I gleam from this reality is that at least SOMEONE on the platform needs to have a relationship with the Lord so that they can help facilitate the worship of Jesus. In my mind, at the very least, this needs to be all of our pastors and primary upfront leaders (music leader, etc.) But those who work FOR the primary music leader can still help facilitate the musical leadership needed to help those in the church encounter the Lord.

I guess what I am saying here is that I am not 100% convinced that every single person on the platform MUST have a personal relationship with Jesus. This is our hope, of course, but somehow God can actually cause His children to worship Him even if those facilititaing may not completely be in agreement with what that really means.

Of course only those who KNOW God can worship Him... but that is a different issue from this matter of "leading" in worship - again, we have to remember it is NOT WE who lead worship, but the Holy Spirit!

At 12:47 AM, January 31, 2006, Blogger Master Aegidius said...

So how would you tie this into the sacrament of communion, or do you view that as a totally seperate issue?

At 10:41 PM, January 31, 2006, Blogger rs said...

i went to a men's retreat with my church this past weekend still "buzzing" about this topic b/c I'm so torn on the issue. naturally, i discussed it with the three other men i rode down with - intelligent brothers who i really respect, but who tend to toe the boundaries more than i. this is why i sought their advice.

one brother gave a great point on this issue. i can't remember his exact wording, but it was something to this effect - if we seek something outside the church to aid our worship (in this case a musician), what does that say about God's promise to provide all things necessary for HIS worship?

Moreover, don't we actually undercut the body of Christ that God has provided for us? in other words, Paul indicates that the body is complete as all parts come together. by bringing in an unbeliever - someone not part of the body - we actually proclaim that our body is incomplete and inadequate for our worship.

what this brother is saying is that we should worship acapella if we have to b/c that is the body god has provided. perhaps we should find other ways to incorporate this brother into our community.

however, i'm still not sold on this argument either. perhaps we should bring him to a worship service as an avenue of discussion with him about worship. perhaps the discussion of worship will either cause him to repent and believe or it will cause him to walk away from the opportunity to play.

i don't know. somehow, we need to meet unbelievers wherever they are at. how do we meet unbelievers who are really in to music?

At 5:59 AM, May 20, 2006, Blogger Steve said...

What an interesting topic.

I did everything I could to resist being gay. From age 17 until 34, I tried living traditional life. I got married, and tried to act my way into heterosexuality. I remained faithful to my wife, but continued to experience same-sex attractions (even though I never acted on them). It drove me to alcoholism, and brought me to the brink of suicide. I was fired from my job, my wife divorced me, and at my bottom, I got sober. Shortly afterward, a friend invited me to church.

I told the pastor, and several of the 20-&-30-somethings there, that I'd been a drunk, a spendthrift, and a general waste of space on earth. They told me about this guy Jesus, who had a penchant for the outcast, the diseased, and who had a habit of transforming lives. Who wouldn't be attracted to that kind of offer?

But I also knew that alcoholism and financial irresponsibility was one thing, especially since I'd repented and left that life behind. However, homosexuality was quite another thing - how do you repent of what you are? So for 13 years, I took my place in the church, spent almost every day praying, crying out, waiting for God to cure me, transform me, to somehow just fix me. I served as worship leader, lay preacher, gave children's sermons, was a choir member, Stephen minister, council member.

I went forward to Billy Graham, at Promise Keepers conferences, and I've even been to seminary. I pledged my life to celibacy (which, before you ask, is where I've been for the last 12 years) in order to serve God. I am still a celibate; so I'm not doing any of the things that Levitical law would have me killed for.

Which prompts me to my first question: do you know for a fact that Bob is a "practicing, self-avowed homosexual"? Has anyone asked the question? Is he actually having sex with other men? Because even the strictest OT reading shows us that just being homosexual is not a sin. And having people gossip about "is he or isn't he?" surely isn't in the Christian standard, either.

Then ask yourself the question: if Bob was straight, and you believed that Bob was having extra-marital sex with a woman, would that disqualify him as well?

But I guess my two main questions about this whole thing would be in the realm of (a) fruits of the spirit and (b) being honest and open about your moral standards.

By your own words, the fruits of this man's contributions to your worship are "a very positive influence on singing and praise." Galatians 5 tells us that "when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (5:22-23, NIV).

It sounds like your "gay pagan" is exhibiting the fruit of Spirit-led service, whether he in fact professes to be a believer or not. Does anyone else see that this as a blessing, and not a problem?

I found the idea that worship of God is somehow tainted by the presence of unbelievers or sinners to be more than a little problematic. If sinners can't lead worship, and "there is no one who is righteous, not even one," then who will lead worship?

And I'm completely undone by the idea that unbelievers somehow stain or damage worship! Can no one worship unless they believe? How will unbelievers ever learn to believe unless they are surrounded by a community of welcoming believers? Certainly the people in my first church did the work of Christ - because took me, a pretty unregenerate, vulgar, angry man, and taught me.

They helped me buy my first Bible; they taught me that asking the embarrassing and tough questions about the Bible was OK. Did they do wrong, somehow? Should I have been seated out in the narthex during worship until I came to belief, and then allowed in? Is that what Jesus did with sinners, thieves, and lepers? might have been, but that's not what the Bible says... Seems to me that the first person to whom Jesus spoke his lordship was the woman at the well. Would she have been welcome in your worship?

But more importantly, I truly believe that if your congregation feels strongly about homosexuality, then you owe it to yourself and to Bob to address it up front, and be honest with him. If you and your congregation feel that you are "accepting the unacceptable" simply in order to have an accompanist, then I'd say you have the wrong accompanist and he has the wrong church. Otherwise you're just using him - period.

Let's look at this another way, and take the "homo" portion out of this. If Bob was living with Susie, instead of David, would you be having this conversation? And if Bob would not repent of living with Susie, would your decision be the same?

For that matter, if your worship leader were straight, happily and faithfully married, wealthy and came to worship Sunday morning in a Lexus sedan, and yet gave nothing to help feed the hungry or care for the sick in town, would you reject HIM as a worship leader? After all, Matthew 25:31-46 tells us that what separates the sheep from the goats will not be who Bob's sleeping with...

I will suggest to you this is how most evangelical churches approach gays: "Well, friend, you see, God loves sinners - but your particular brand of sin is unacceptable to us. But we want you to know you're welcome here as long as you try to overcome that sin and become acceptable."

That approach doesn't work much. It particularly doesn't work well for guys like me, who fought the way I was made for thirty-five years. I have never "abandoned natural desires" (Romans 1) because I've never had them, to begin with. I've fought to manufacture them, for more than 3 decades - but in the end, I've failed miserably.

So your acceptance of me "until I am healed of my homosexuality" would hve to be a long-standing one...

If that's the message you're looking forward to sharing with Bob and his gay friends, do yourself a favor: don't bother. No matter what the sin, if your message is, "Come on, hang out here, even though we know you're basically not acceptable to us or God. We won't outwardly expect you to change, but inwardly, that's really what we're hoping for, and that's why we're putting up with your sinful nature to begin with...", then your efforts are pretty much doomed.

I'm going to urge you and your to find a copy of Stranger at the Gate, by Mel White. And then read it cover to cover. If you really want to understand about what goes on with gay Christians, it's a challenging (but accurate) description of a very common experience among us.

I am not looking to debate anyone; and I'm done with trying to be changed. But if you want to hear the story of an authentic gay believer, then look here, here and here.

Again, there's no need to spam me with comments about how I'm going to hell. Absent the saving power of Christ, that's absolutely right. Just offering you a chance to see things from the other side of the ledger.

At 9:20 PM, June 10, 2006, Blogger DRSimrak said...

I must say that I am saddened by what I have read on this blog. My heart is broken and I'm saddened that such a clear subject as this is actually causing question.
The fact that Bob is gay really doesn't matter. He could be a murderer or a liar or a thief or a child molester or a good person, whatever he may be, to have an unbeliever "lead" worship in a church service is wrong.
In Acts 6, we see that the men that were chosen to serve the tables were to be men of "good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom." These were not men that were to be evangalizing or teaching or anything of any seeming significance, but we see that there were high standards for those to be in service to the body of Christ. End of story.
Why is it that we are so willing to compromise this time with God? Have we gotten so proud of the position that we have obtained (that of the spirit of adoption) by the grace of God that we have forgotten that He is still God? Aaron's sons brought strange fire before God and they were consumed. God didn't say "wow, at least their heart is in the right place."
So now, how are we to worship God? The Bible says in John 4.23 "But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him."
This poses another question, can an unbeliever worship God? No, how can they worship Him whom they have not known? For the unbeliever, they are simple words on sheets of paper or on an overhead. God is many things to an unbeliever, but not personal, not a Saviour. If they wish to participate in the service, great but let them observe, don't let them lead.
Have we forgotten what Church is to be about? A church service is not to be a community outreach, the church service is the gathering together of believers. The church is simply the body of Christ. How do we become a part of the church? Through being born again, we must be born of the Spirit.
Are we now building our own tower of Babel? Are we trying to reach God on our own terms? Are we trying to make our own paths of salvation? Was Jesus's death on the cross not enough?
The call of salvation is for all who recognize that they need saving. In scripture we see that no man seeks God of his own accord, but simply responds to the Spirit's calling on his heart. Romans 3:11 says "There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God."
Why is it that we are pretending that people really are? God does the seeking. Let's not mince words. We need not water down the worship of the Almighty Creator so that we can try of our own accord to reach men for Christ.
Our business is to live our lives before the Almighty, to love God and love our neighbor. Why do we think it ok to love our neighbor more than God?
The Emergent Church movement is spreading a lie that is from the pits of hell. It says that we need to change the way we evangelize so as to make sinners comfortable. That we need to open up a dialogue and circumspectly arrive at truth (whatever that is). In 2 Timothy 4:3,4 it says "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables."
Let us not be swayed by the winds of doctrine. Let us hold fast not to the traditions of our fathers, but rather let us return to the scriptures for answers. Let us study and show ourselves approved workmen. We need to spend more time in prayer and supplication, we need more time reading God's word and less time reading about the experiences of others or books on becoming a better Christian. We don't need another systematic theology; we need a back to basics biblical theology that places both our doctrine, and our lives in context. Jesus is our rock and our salvation.

***On a side note, I was sad to read one blogger state that Jesus broke the law of the Sabbath. This was sad to me, because if Jesus broke the law, then He was just a sinner like myself. Jesus broke the pharisees law, not God's law. Jesus (God) stated that the Sabbath was created for man and that man was not created for the Sabbath. In Hebrews 4 we see that the Sabbath is actually a picture of our future rest (our redemptive rest in glory).

Let us not confuse our own limited understanding for truth.

At 7:38 PM, June 12, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Hi drsimrak, thanks for taking the time to comment. I'd love to hear you clarify a few things.

1. You mention that 'your heart is saddened by what you read on this blog' - do you mean the blog in general, or just this post, or just the comments on this post, or one person's comments in particular?

I for one am actually very encouraged by these discussions - I think its good for us to think about these things and wrestle with questions like 'What really does make our worship acceptable to God?' And I'm particularly pleased that we have a wide variety of opinions represented (and nobody's shouting, either). I'm really, really glad that Steve wieghed in on the conversation, as most people coming from his perspective have long since left (or been tossed) from the discussion. I really want to talk with people who think differently than I do.

2. Keep in mind that I was careful to define "lead in worship" pretty specifically - playing an instrument, like a piano or a guitar. I was also pretty specific in saying that we don't back down from talking about what Scripture has to say about homosexuality (and other sin for that matter).

3. I'd like to know what you think makes our worship pleasing and acceptable to God? Is it our own wisdom, skill, and holiness? Or is it Christ perfecting our meager offering? When you ask whether an unbeliever can worship God, I find myself wondering how carefully you read the preceding conversation (granted, it is long). I'd encourage you to consider where we stand...

4. As for the Emergent Movement, I think it might be a little more complex and varied than you suggest. I've written quite a bit about my perspective on the EM over on Wayfaring Pilgrim.

5. Regarding Jesus and the Sabbath, I'd encourage you to go read the text closely (particularly Luke's version). You might be interested in my thoughts too.

6. The focus of the original post was - "Could this be a venue for dialog w/ a guy like Bob?" I don't hear you say much (anything?) about him at all - please tell us how you are going to model Christ's love to him? How you would you go about building a relationship with him. Do you even care about him? Would you want to be friends with someone like him, or like Steve? I sure do, on both accounts...

At 9:24 AM, June 13, 2006, Blogger DRSimrak said...

Christian thanks for the response. In regards to questions 1 & 2, they fit together. I'm saddened that, in a sense, the question is even asked. It's almost like asking is murder wrong. The clear answer is yes, murder is wrong. If people knowing the truth need help understanding the truth then maybe you could ask why it would be wrong to have an unbeliever lead/help with worship.
This is a barometer of our times. It is almost as if Christians in our day and age are afraid to speak the truth. We wonder, am I being insensitive? am I not loving? am I discriminating?
The importance of the example in Acts is that we see that to be of service to the body no matter what facet, they were seeking Godly individuals.
What is acceptable worship? First and foremost, to worship God it must be on His terms and not ours. The Bible speaks of singing and dancing and praying and learning. We know that our God is a God of order so it must be orderly. Our hearts must be pure. Jesus said that if we are going to the temple to worship to worship and we remember that we have somthing against our brother that we are to leave, make things right with our brother and then worship. Worship must also be honest. Psalm 51:17 says "The sacrifices of God [are] a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise."
Now Paul also talks about us being living sacrifices a life of continual worship. Living our lives before God to do His bidding not ours. After all, worship means literally to bow down or prostrate oneself.
Point 4. In regards to the Emergent Movement, what is wrong with the model for evangelism that we see in the Bible? Brian McLaren in his new book states that for 2000 year we have been interpreting the life of Jesus incorrectly. So now he has the answers?
If God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, why do we need a new church? Why does this new church need to change things to be relevent to society? The disturbing truth is that when the church changes to embrace the society rather than the society embracing the church, it sends the message that God does change. Also, how is it that the emergent movement still doesn't have a defined set of parameters? Wouldn't that be the first thing a movement should have?
The emergent movement is borne out of the desire of the church to grow in this new postmodern age by opening up dialogue with those around us and sadly, in a lot of cases conforming to the world to show that the body of Christ really isn't all that different. The movement emphasizes unbelievers being comfortable in the dialogue. How can someone who is going to Hell be comfortable with it, unless they're not really being told they are going to Hell?
If we simply apply 2000 yr old scriptural insight, we will speak the truth in love but we will also love them so much that we have no choice but to be honest.
Point 5. The skinny of it is this. If Jesus broke the law, then his sacrifice wasn't sufficient. Now, I'm willing in faith to say that I don't know or understand all of the idiosyncrisis of the Bible, but I do know that Jesus needed to be perfect for His sacrifice to count. Also, another way of looking at the text is the following: Hebrews said that Abraham believed and it was counted to him as righteousness. In what did he believe? He believed in the coming Messiah, the one that would take away the sins of the world. He did not believe in the law. David also believed. Paul builds the case in Romans that the law was never meant to bring salvation but to simply show when one was in error. How would this fit in?
Point 6. A venue for dialogue? What kind of message does it send when you water down your own message to make it appealing to someone else? St. Francis stated the following "Preach the gospel always and when necessary use words." Sure, invite him to church. Tell him about Jesus. Hang out with him, befriend him love him, pray for him. But why would anyone put him in a position of service within the body of Christ? If you start with playing backup keyboard and then organ and then what, teaching? Leading prayer?
For Bob, if he was someone I'd normally be friends with (sexual tendencies aside) I'd befriend him. I would invite him to church, I would invite him to hang out with my Christian friends, if he was in a time of need I would be there for him and support him, and when he asked about my joy I would share. I would not however go see brokeback mt with him to open dialogue. I would not see DaVinci Code to open dialogue. I would not go to a gay bar to open dialogue. I would not compromise my convictions for the sake of dialogue.
This is another point in which the emergent church is leading the body of Christ astray. The object or goal is not dialogue, it's salvation. I know the standard response, but with the dialogue we can share the gospel. Remember, Jesus spoke in parable so that the pharisees wouldn't understand and therefore not be accountable.
The best way for a Christian to witness is with their life.
Let's be separate, let's love those around us, let's stand up for Jehovah God, let us share the same reverence for God's name that He has. Let us not where the badge of Christian recklessly or foolishly.

At 7:39 AM, June 12, 2007, Blogger Steve said...

Christian, my long-overdue response is here at My epistle to Christian. For what it's worth...


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