Saint Barnabas Apostolate

The Need: Fellowship, Prayer and Work

Prayer and work in the name of God should never be done in isolation. We ought to work together because Christ tells us that where two or more gather in His name, He is there among them. And when two or more agree and pray on a thing that it shall be granted by the Father in Heaven. And Christ is merely emphasizing, or rather fulfilling, a known fact of Christian life which is that the Holy Spirit spreads its gifts among the congregation of people, among the Body of Christ in the church and only together are we truly whole and united under Christ as our Headship.

I spoke in my previous post about the need for Christian fellowship and how this need is even more present in COVID times. We have a guide in the past from Saints who gather people around them and formed systems and orders of prayer and work that formed the daily devotions and contemplation of their lives. And there is no question of the material and spiritual benefit that this had for the church. And there is no question of that same material and spiritual need today within the church.

The Response: The Apostolate of Saint Barnabas

I’ve been moved by the Spirit to explore the opportunity to start a lay group at my local church focused on daily prayer and a commitment to work and serve at the church. The canonical hours will form the backbone of the group as will the leadership roles that we assume throughout the church at the service to others and our own community. This is not a religious order or an institute. No one takes formal vows privately or publicly. We do not have an order or rule and we do not wear a common garb or any marks which distinguish us from non-members. We hold our Commons to be the same among us and what unites us an brings us together as a group. Our Commons are faith, liturgy, prayer, work, and way. You can read more about the Commons of Saint Barnabas here.

While we do not have a rule or order we do have an organization system that is articulated in our Constitution. We expand on our duties and obligation which arise from our Commons and desire to be in membership together in community which is articulated in our Ordinary. The Ordinary of Saint Barnabas can be found here.

It is my hope to develop a small group of dedicated Christians who are united in Christian prayer and a commitment to serve and work at the church. It is a modern take on the tradition Benedictine model which I think is a response to the need for Christian fellowship. We tend to the spiritual needs of the church through prayer and the material needs through work. Our motto is orata et opus which means pray and work which is more of a demand and institution that a reflect on the concepts of these words. They are actions and we are a group of Christian action.

The Method: The Way of Light of Saint Barnabas

Established around the Way of Light which was articulated in a non-canonical letter traditionally attributed to Saint Barnabas. We are peacemakers and peace builders first and foremost and seek to bring together the Body of Christ; temporal and spiritual; together in the unending hymn of praise inherent in the Divine Office.

Feature photo by Rosie Fraser on Unsplash.

The importance of Christian fellowship

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted our natural need for human interaction beyond what we get through pixelated screens and headphones. And this need is probably clearest in our churches.

When the world found itself in a similar period of upheaval and change, the Saints of our past look inward and oversaw the construction of massive structures that housed men and women of prayer who toiled in the name of Christ for the good of the church and their fellow humans on earth. A return to the monastery is probably not the best option for our church today, but the model of circling the wagons, supporting one another and our community directly around us and being united in prayer and common work is certainly within the realm of possible. And I would wager, needed more than ever in our post-COVID church.

The Mass will always be the chief prayer of the church– the sacrifice of Christ reenacted and shared again and again for the faithful who gather in His name. But when it comes to supporting the church in prayer, supporting one another in prayer and supporting our communities in prayer we also have the wonderful gift of the Divine Office. “Hours” of prayer set aside that sanctify the day that forms part of an unceasing hymn of praise that rises before God. A prayer that is done not just by the faithful on earth, but by the Saints and angels in Heaven, we enjoin our voice to them– just as at Mass– in our psalms of praise and devotion to God our Father.

This sort of structure prayer should not be done alone. Just like the Mass, the prayer is meant for the congregation of the church and should be celebrated whenever possible in a group setting. But the hours themselves are also said at set periods throughout the day, which means that even when the prayers are said alone, you are not alone in praying them. Especially if you have a group of people who have all agreed to work to pray together– to hold one another account and pray for a common purpose. We are told by Christ that when two or more agree and ask that the Father shall ensure they receive, and this prayer is a vehicle for that liturgical act with God.

We have something to learn from the so-called Benedictine model that can and should be applied to the post-COVID church. The importance of Christian fellowship, especially in this time of social isolation and fear, cannot be understated. A church is already a beacon for people who are isolated, alone and afraid because as a congregation we form a single body that together can and will overcome any challenge before us– this is the power of the church. When we are forced to break up, as we are now, it is even more important we lean on established prayers like the Divine Office to stay connect and inflame our Christian spirit.

O Lord, open thou my mouth that I may bless thy Holy Name. Cleanse my heart from all vain, evil, and wandering thoughts; enlighten my understanding kindle my affections, that I may pray to, and praise thee with attention and devotion; and may worthily be heard before the presence of thy Divine Majesty. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Completely different worldviews

I was chatting with a Baptist friend of mine about having discussions concerning God and religion with people. My friend is very active preaching to people and is very open to discussing the big topics of God and religion. She remarked that she often feels like she is speaking a different language to people, like they simply cannot understand what she is saying not because they have rejected it but because they have no ounce or shred of understanding of what she is saying to begin with.

This made me think of a similar discussion that I had with some friends over a campfire one weekend last month. One friend remarked that she was a post-modernist which lead to a discussion about post-modernism and relative versus absolute truth. In the course of the discussion, someone pointed out that we were having a discussion about different values and that if I saw that the approach the other person was making was coming from a different value set than me than I would understand (also alluding to the need for the conversation to end). But I pointed out that such thinking was just the same basis as the one-side of the discussion and brought no resolution. And they didn’t understand. Talking about values or trying to find a consensus without any tangible resolution is the exact opposite of one whole part of the basis of the discussion and disagreement. In other words, if there is in fact one absolute truth to understand in this world, whether we come from different values or perspectives or approaches (or whatever you want to call it) there is a common place we can end and resolve the discussion. In fact, the motive for even having the discussion in the first place is a desire to get closer to this absolute truth.

We are so deep into this post-modern world that God has been reasonably declared dead. Not in the real sense, God is very much alive, will always be very much alive and will not go anywhere. But in the sense that for the lives of everyday people, for the large assumptions and motivations that shape our society and our relationships, there is no inclusion or room for God– or any higher power or truth for that matter. And we are generations past this introduction into our world, and the ideology itself is so pervasive that it has influenced every single aspect of our lives since that introduction, including within the church. We’ve all learned a new language and left the old one completely behind, and in the process of leaving the old one behind we’ve left the poetry, writings and wisdom that were gathered up in that now foreign tongue and replaced it with relativism.

Having a discussion where you not just believe but know and live your life and allow society and relationships to be formed around you with an understanding of an absolute truth, a natural order, the existence of God with a person who does not is not just a matter of believer and unbeliever. Certainly not like how we are told it was in apologetic books of the past. Today, the unbeliever is not someone who has been raised in a society that accepts God and thus has been influenced and taught all about the reality of His existence and an absolute truth only to reject it, they are rather someone who has simply never ever come into contact with any understanding or persuasion of there even being a high power, let alone the Christian God. You are speaking Latin and you’re leaning on Latin style prose and poetry to influence a Chinese (picked only because of its distance from Latin in any sense, English would not be an accurate analogy for obvious reasons) speaking man who not just has no idea what you are saying but has had absolutely no exposure to your language, prose or poetry. They not just fail to understand you, you actually sound utterly foreign and completely baseless to them.

That is the state of the world today. And more and more believers themselves are falling into the trap of post-modern thinking and are comporting lives and carrying on themselves as if there is no absolute truth in the world while still calling themselves Christians. And many “churches” encourage or outright condone such behaviours by adopting false doctrines. They speak of finding values, common ground or shut down discussions on topics that demand our attention and exploration in order to get closer to that absolute truth (and thus better, or more divine). Or they focus on matters of perceived social justice above all else which is a world entirely founded upon the principles of relative truth and post-modernism. Or, like the horrendous Gospel of Plenty, they warp and twist the very real teachings of the Bible to the perverse understandings of the world.

But I wrote this note because I am curious what your own experience with this has been in the past and presently. I would say that I find myself in a very lonely place when I think about how different my worldview is from those of my peers around me. I feel exhausted in having discussions with people about religion that can only best be compared to telling a person who has never heard of veins and the heart that they are bleeding to death and need to take action. I know there are like minded people out there, I am not unique in how I see or understand the world, but we are not the default state of society, certainly not in the West. I am curious how you feel about this.

Featured image by Ben White on Unsplash.

Mass: A Protest of the World

It seems that the world has changed so much since February of this year. We’ve had a global outbreak of disease that is on the eve of killing one million people worldwide and has not shown any signs of stopping. In the US, and other Western countries, we’ve seen protesting and rallying around the Black Lives Matter movement which has brought to light in a seemingly finalized sense the brutality that black Americans face at the hands of often white police officers. Many of us who take solace in our weekly protest of the world through Mass and the Eucharist were prevented from attending because of crowd and distancing restrictions during the COVID outbreak. And this may have contributed to a spiritual dearth as we moved through the pandemic crisis and protests the world over. But the Mass and the Eucharist are the solution to the troubles and turbulence of the world and this holds true today just as much as any other age since Christ founded the Church.

Everything about Mass is an orientation away from the world and toward the Divine. From the moment we enter the narthex and cleanse ourselves with Holy Water, to when we are bold enough to approach near the Sanctuary and kneel at the altar rail to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, we are purposefully turning ourselves away from the world and toward God. This is most clearly evident in the Baptismal Rite, where traditionally candidates stood facing West, toward Death and the World and as they renounced Satan and worldly ways, they turned physically toward the East, toward the altar and the Risen Christ to embrace their new Christian life. Most church buildings themselves are designed to be places of refuge from great storms. Look way up at the ceilings of most traditional catholic churches and you’ll see ribbing and trussing that resembles the spine and supports of a boat, and you’ll be reminded of the protection and safety offered in this place away from the tumult and storms of the world. You may even have a moment similar to that of the Apostles in the boat during a dangerous storm, waking Christ in fear of being swamped. He reminded them then how powerful faith can be, and we need a little of that reminder again today no doubt. Mass is fundamentally a protest of the world, and that protest is a physical and spiritual turning away of the body and thus the soul and mind away from the world and to the things of God, to God Himself and His Son and Holy Spirit.

In order for the church to be a refuge in the world, the world must be in a state of storminess and destruction which is separated from God. There are many soft theologies that seek to unite the things of the world with the things of God, but Jesus was clear that we can only have one master. And if His Church is to be a redeeming Church (and that is how He founded it), than there must be a world and state to be redeemed from. A world that tells us that power and riches are most important, and that equality and fairness are to be determined by a measure of these things. That says it is best to make goats of all people– to attempt to raise all people to a false status of wealth and fame– than to remind them that they are sheep– all broken, all die and all take nothing from this world to the next. A world that is full of suffering and loss and that constantly reminds us of that same suffering and loss to keep us disconnected from God and each other. A world tainted by the stain of original sin which cannot be part of the Resurrection and life to come. And that is certainly where we find the world today. And because of COVID restrictions, we’ve found ourselves even more lost in not having our refuge, our protest of the world near us in Mass and the Eucharist.

Mass is the protest for the catholic. It is how we protest the world and all of the sin and suffering contained within it. We orient ourselves away from the world and toward God when we attend Mass and consume the Holy Eucharist.

As churches open up and services begin to be offered again, my hope and prayer for you today is that you find the Eucharist, and you take the time to protest this broken world and turn yourself to God.

May God the Father who made us bless us.
May God the Son send his healing among us.
May God the Holy Spirit move within us and
give us eyes to see with, ears to hear with,
and hands that your work might be done.
May we walk and preach the word of
God to all.
May the angel of peace watch over us and
lead us at last by God’s grace to the Kingdom. Amen.

COVID-19 and Mass

My church diocese has officially announced that masses indoors are cancelled until the Easter season (and even then, they were clear that more direction based on how things look at that time will be provided). Many people are already feeling the pinch, myself included. However, even with churches cancelling their services in light of strong science that indicates an increase risk of spreading the virus in group settings of 50 or more people, there is a pastoral need among the faithful, arguably more so during times of crisis such as these.

It falls to the leadership of churches, our ministers and pastors, to enact creative solutions to the challenges currently being presented in providing pastoral care to faithful. These solutions ought not to ignore the science before us, not only would that be irresponsible because it places individuals at risk for contracting the virus but it also becomes scandalous for the church (just see the responses from non-believers to what happened to the church in Korea when the spread was just starting). With due consideration for the science and a serious regard for one’s pastoral duties to tend to the flock, ministers and pastors can come up with creative solutions– and ought to.

One suggestion that is being considered by my Anglo-Catholic parish is celebrating mass outdoors at a local park. There is more than enough room for people to gather with enough space between them and mass can be slightly altered so that people remain in their places while a single minister distributes the Eucharist. Another option is to arrange for outdoor prayer services based on the Liturgy of the Hours. People can gather (again not too closely) and pray together knowing that they are praying prayers that are part of the whole church, the whole breath of the faithful rising before God. You can also consider learning and starting to pray the Hours yourself while you are stuck at home for long days.

I am considering putting together a video (perhaps with a live feed so people can join in) on how to organize and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. If this is something you’d be interested in helping out with or participating in to learn please let me know. You can find all of the Hours organized online here at Universalis.com and as always you can shoot me a message or email and I would be more than willing to help you out personally.

It is also Lent, we cannot lose sight of our own need for preparation, pentenance, prayer and almsgiving. You can do the Stations of the Cross without the icons that are present with the church around your own home. The prayers and reflections are easy to find online and you can move throughout your own home and conduct the stations. To add even more flavour to the prayer, find out where East is and face toward that direction while your pray.

All of this recalls photos of the past when Priests celebrated mass on whatever surface could be found around the battlefields of the World Wars. I’ll end with a few inspirational photos.

Feature photo by Diana Vargas on Unsplash.

The common cup: is it safe?

In light of the recent information being passed around about COVID-19 and our ability to stem the impact of the epidemic, I thought it would be helpful to touch on a topic that is certainly a popular question within my own church at the moment. Is it safe to take from the common communion cup, especially during seasons of sickness and flu?

The short answer is that it is somewhat complicated. It is true that statistically there has never been a reported case of any person contracting a serious illness from the communion cup. There were many rumours and claims, especially by modern historians looking back to the plagues of the middle ages. But when the data was drawn out, and the facts laid bare, it was obvious that these theories did not hold any weight. But it is important to note that just because something hasn’t happened yet does not mean that it could not happen, especially when dealing with novel viruses like COVID-19.

You might have heard your Priest or Deacon talking about how the alcohol content combined with the material used in the composition of the cup essentially sterilizes the surface and kills anything that comes into contact. That unfortunately is not entirely true. In a study published in 1988, no appreciable change was noted in the presence of micro-organisms on the surface of the cup as a result of the wine or mixture of metals of the cup itself. In fact, what was found to be the best method of ensuring a clean communion cup was the act of wiping the surface with a corporal cloth and turning the cup for the next communicant.

The solution to ensuring that the communion cup is safe is to enforce proper protocols around the wiping and turning of the cup for the next communicant and this requires that communion not be rushed. And the best way to do this in my opinion is to actually have communicants come and kneel at the altar rail to receive communion from the celebrant and only two more communion ministers. And with adequate training and a healthy dose of reverence toward the Sacrament and how it is communicated to the faithful, there is no issue with using the common cup during seasons of illness and flu.

Another important thing to note is that the act of indenture– or dipping the host into the wine and consuming both species at the same time– is actually the worst option when it comes to hygiene. Especially when it is done by communicants themselves. The problem is that the vast majority of micro-organisms that are transmitted to surfaces around us are through our hands, and there is always a risk (and I’ve witnessed it personally many times as a Eucharistic minister) that ones fingers dip in the wine throughout the process. It is extremely unhygienic and most parishes should have a policy of outright banning indenture or only permitting it to be conducted by a Eucharistic minister (with the understanding that they’ve at least washed their hands immediately prior to distributing communion).

The safest way to receive communion and share the common cup is to approach the Eucharist with the level of reverence that many would called traditional today. We ought to be taking time between communicants, purposely moving up and away for communion, and it ought not to be a rushed affair in the hope of finishing the service within an hour window. This is probably why historically the common cup has not been an issue throughout some of the worse epidemics of our human history. I fear that might not be the case in this age of rushed Eucharistic services.

And lastly, we ought not forget that we are talking about the Blood of Christ. Through the incarnation of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity the gifts themselves still retain their earthly properties of bread and wine. This means it is entirely within the realm of acceptable dogma to expect the potential transmission of micro-organisms on these surfaces. But there is also a divine aspect to the bread and wine as well and there is certainly something to be said about the fact that since its institution the Body and Blood of Christ has not contributed to any significant health outbreak.

At the end of the day whether you decide to take from the common cup or not is a personal choice and in no way does it impact your consumption of the Body and Blood of Christ. The presence of the cup for laity is actually a relatively new practice within the history of the liturgy and the church has always maintained that when you consume one or the other species you are consuming the entire Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. So even with all of the facts that the communion cup is safe, you can decide not to consume the Blood of Christ during periods of sickness or outbreak and still get everything out of Mass that you require to go back into the world and bring the Light of Christ to all peoples.

O for a closer walk with You, Lord Jesus so that I may draw ever closer into Your arms of grace day by day. Thank You that I can commune with You Lord as I come before You in prayer and the reading of Your Word.

Help me to seek YOU more and more for Who You are and not just that which You provide. Lord that I may spend time in Your presence – not for what I can get from You but for what I can give to You. Lord that You would fill me with Your love so that my love may flow back to You as well as out to others. Lord, I pray that my life may be a life that glorifies You in thought word and deed and that with each passing day I draw ever closer into close communion with You, in Jesus name I pray. Amen.

Feature image by Mateus Campos Felipe on Unsplash.

Reflections on Lent – Denying ourselves we open up to God

Lent in the year of Our Lord two-thousand and twenty is well-underway. And if you are like me, it caught you by surprise. It seems only yesterday that we were celebrating the birth of Jesus and ushering in the New Year. Now with all of the decorations gone away, and the snow and cold beginning to lose its grip in the world, all of creation is springing back to life after a winter of slumber.

Lent captures the dichotomy of our faith perfectly, dare I say divinely. While the world is in enthralled in a spring bloom and “love is in the air” we Christians enter into a season of denial, prayer, penance and almsgiving. While the world triumphantly celebrates the cycle of creation, we stand back in silence, preparing ourselves for the Easter season to come. This is a dichotomy. We are both overfilled with joy at the love and beauty of our Creator and we are also aware of our sin and transgressions before Him.

When I was a child Lent was about giving stuff up. I was fortunate to attend a catholic school and every year around this time we were challenged by our teachers to give up pleasures. The usual stuff would always come up: pop, candy, television. Sometimes someone would be bold and try to give up chocolate or meat for the entire 40 day period. When I was a child I thought that Lent was about giving something up and proving to God how much you loved Him and were willing to give up for Him. But as I got older and as my faith became older as well, I learned that this kind of thinking about Lent was pointless. God knows already how much I love Him (or how little at times that I do). And the price for my salvation has already been paid, so there is little that I can do to effect that at any rate. And wasn’t Jesus clear when He told us not to go around sad and moping while fasting and not to pray in public with loud, long phrases that have empty meaning. Why then are we putting ashes on our heads and going around telling everyone what we’ve given up and how hard it is to do so during this period? These are confusing because it is not what Lent is about at all, and I fear that even many mature adults still possess child-like faiths that see Lent as this today as well.

Lent is about denying ourselves that is sure. But it is about understanding that in that denial we are opening ourselves and our lives to God. Falling to our knees and acknowledging our sin is not the end of the prayer, we fall to our knees and empty ourselves so that we can be filled up by God in the manner He wants us to be.

This Lent I took a practical approach to my Lenten obligation. I have given up all frivolous things in life. No milk or sugar in my coffee, no butter for my toast and no desserts or sweets added to my meals. This is not about giving up things, it is about denying myself pleasures so that I can open myself up to God. Each extremely hot and bitter black coffee that I make in the morning, each dry toast that I choke back is not just a badge of honour because I have given it up, but a spiritual exercise that invites God to come into my life. I am serious, during Lent my daily coffee ritual and my breakfast become a spiritual exercise, a divine movement, because I remind myself why I am doing what I am doing and what is to come. That my friends is the intent of Lent; to deny ourselves and allow God to fill the void.

So ask yourself this year, regardless of what you are giving up, are you following through and allowing God to fill the void? Are you denying yourself the harvest that you work in vain in order to reap the larger and greater harvest of the Saviour?

Look with favour on your family, Lord,
and as at this time we restrain the desires of the body,
may our hearts burn with love of you.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Cover photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash.

Reflections on Advent – Faith

Faith is probably one of the most used words in Christianity and also concurrently the least understood. It is also a word that is used in a completely different context and meaning within the secular world, and sometimes this different meaning bleeds into the Christian meaning. Faith, within the catholic faith, is much more than just belief in something that cannot be proven by science or our senses. Faith itself actually has two meanings within Catholicism; the body of faith (what we believe) and the act or virtue of faith (loosely, how we believe).

Faith begins with the fact that we all die, and that suffering is a part of our existence as human beings. Thomas Merton wrote that “we are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves. And we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” The answer to understanding the purpose of death and suffering within life is faith, and specifically the catholic faith as a whole.

We have faith in a God who has not abandoned us in our sinful ways but has revealed Himself as the Creator of the Universe and who, out of love, gave His only Son for our sake. We have faith in the Gospel, the good news of humankind, that God came down from Heaven and died on a cross for our salvation– in order to break the bondage of darkness and death over our houses. We have faith in the Church, founded by Jesus, as a real presence of the Body of Christ here on earth. Deep down we are all afraid of suffering, being alone, not being understood, not being loved. And because we are afraid we sin and we disconnect ourselves from God who, through faith, can bring light to where there is darkness in our lives.

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The object of faith is that which God has revealed through Divine Revelation. Together this is collected in what the Holy Church calls the Deposit of Faith. We have faith that this knowledge is sacred and has been entrusted carefully to the Church in order to bring souls to God. Through the creeds, through our works and through the liturgy we proclaim and manifest that Deposit of Faith and partake in the salvation of the world. We do not “just believe”, we believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth…

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “faith is a personal act– the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals Himself” (CCC 166). This simple definition is why we light the Second Advent Candle for faith. Mary’s response upon being visited by the angel is an act of faith that is clear and obvious which is why the story is relevant almost two thousand years later, and certainly relevant during the Advent season of preparation. Mary as a virgin is biologically incapable of giving birth to a human being. Today we often like to look back at ancients as dull beings looking to the sky for the answers to everything, but rest assured they understood the basic mechanics of how each of them came into the world– it took a woman and a man having sex with one another. And Mary simply did not meet that criteria. Let alone the fact that the angel was telling her she would birth the Son of Man! It simply was not possible for any of it to happen.

But she does not argue. She does not ask questions or ask for time to deliberate. Her answer is clear and unequivocal, “be it unto me according to thy word.” Amazing. What faith, what response to the initiative of God. Faith was not a feeling for Mary, it was not something that depended on whether or not she woke up feeling pious that particular morning of the Visitation. Faith was much more than that to Mary and indeed to all faithful Christians.

There is an old Chinese story about Fact, Faith and Feeling that is entirely descriptive of my point here. While Fact, Faith and Feeling are walking together along the top of a narrow wall, Faith can ensure him and feeling stay steady as long as he keeps his eyes on Fact, but if Faith looks away from Fact and turns to Feeling, Faith and Feeling fall off of the wall (Fact never falls). It is a fact for Mary that all things are possible with God and therefore she has faith that what the angel is telling her will come true. That is Faith keeping an eye on Fact and leaving Feeling in the backseat– the only way they all stay on the wall.

This reflection is dedicated to the amazingly beautiful collections by Alex Markovichat at Glitchy Preacher. What an amazing window into a world almost utterly unknown to the rest of us, head over to Glitchy Preacher to learn more about Russia and marvel the amazing collection of artwork they have curated. If you enjoy what’s there, give them a follow (good things happen to bloggers when they get follows).

Almighty Father,
give us the joy of your love
to prepare the way for Christ our Lord.
Help us to serve you and one another.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen

Feature image by David Beale on Unsplash.

Does the Bible condemn same-sex marriage?

  • What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
  • Is it a sin to be a homosexual?
  • Can a person who is homosexual also be a Christian?

My frankness here is totally intentional: the Christian Bible, when we actually take the time to read and understand it as a whole, neither condemns nor permits homosexuality as we have come to understand it in modern times. There are a total of six references to homosexuality (and even with this conclusion we are loosely using the term homosexuality) in the Bible. Surprisingly, if you were an alien who was foreign to this planet and you spent a few minutes listening to any Christian talk radio show or television program (or read Christian tagged WordPress posts), you might be under the impression that homosexuality and sex are the focus point of the Bible. This is simply not the case. The Bible spends more time talking about why you shouldn’t wear two pieces of cloth on your body or plant two different seed types in a single field than it does about having sexual relations with a person of the same sex. It certainly talks a lot more about love and acceptance (straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself no less) than about condemning this and that person for such and such reason. Again, if you were foreign to this world and you listened to most Christians speak you might think that the whole book was littered with “condemn this” and “spite that,” which again is not the case.

The most famous reference to homosexuality, and the one that is trod out in each and every discussion on the topic by seemingly devout Christians, is the story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We all know how it goes, apparently the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah where such an abomination in the sight of the Lord that He sent angels to investigate the problem. While these angels were visiting in the form of human males, the house they were staying in was encircled by an angry mob who demanded that the owner and host, Lot, send the strangers out so that “they may come to know them.” The modern English translation describes the mob as being all of the male citizens of the town. However, the Hebrew phrase in the original text actually would more accurately describe the entire townsfolk (read: male and female) coming out and surrounding the house. Never mind the clear implications that the take-away from this story is that we should not gang rape people and we should protect our guests when they are strangers in our home (probably a great lesson for ancient civilizations where being a stranger in a foreign land was extremely dangerous). Modern Christianity instead focuses on the (false) fact that the group was male and that they demanded that other males come out to be raped. To some modern Christians there is link between modern homosexuality especially between two people who are engaged in a loving and exclusive relationship and having an angry mob demand the ability to gang rape strangers. But in reality and in Christianity there actually is not a link. We are told later on that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed by a pillar of fire because “the outcry against its people [had] become so great before the Lord.” This is of course after Lot had offered his two virgin daughters to the angry mob to “do to them as you please” (never minding the extremely immoral action here). And after Moses and the Lord had a talk which pretty much ended in the Lord wagering that he would destroy an entire city if he could not find a single good person (again, we can just gloss over the moral implications of a God who simply wipes creation off of the face of the planet at whim).

Leviticus condemns sexual relations between men. It does not mention sexual relations between women which either means it is permitted or it was simply overlooked by the framers of the Law. We also recall that the Law rejects the mixing of meat and dairy, the murdering of people who do any action on the Sabbath and the permits the outright oppression of women. It is hard to overcome the specific clauses of the Jewish law today unless we gain a better understanding of where they come from, why they exist in the first place. Let’s not forget the historical perspective in Scripture and the fact that we know that the Book of Leviticus was written at a time when the Jewish population was very small and surrounded by Babylonian influence while in exile from Israel. At a time when Jewish leaders were afraid of the small group being overcome by the powers that surrounded them. It is understandable then that this Law would primarily serve to sustain the small group of people. And that is exactly what the most provocative sections of the Law seek to achieve. When we understand the historical context of Leviticus we can digest the Law in a more modern sense. We know that the Lord is Justice and there is nothing inherently just in cherry-picking law in application and yet this is exactly what happens when Christians rely on Leviticus so much to support their position on homosexuality. Ironically, they will state this position while wearing two different pieces of cloth on their body, after having just consumed a delicious meal of pork with a side of dairy and while standing before a field planted with two different strains of seed (all violations of the same Law they are smacking against a minority). Now there are rules within the Law that are still relevant for us, and we know this because Jesus actually said that they were important when He established the New Covenant (thus fulfilling the First). These are the Ten Commandments. Interestingly, the Ten Commandments represent a certain moral code that is somewhat universal across time and space in our humanity. We (the collective humanity ‘we’) have all almost always agreed that murder in cold blood is immoral. We have always looked down on stealing and cheating. These are moral codes which are written on our hearts because they belong to God and God made each and every one of us. There is nothing in the Ten Commandments about being in a loving relationship with a person of the same-sex. And I would say that this should mean the world to the Christian. It should not be a game of pick the cherry to define what is essentially a theologically weak position to support being against homosexuality and same-sex marriage as we understand them today. And certainly it is no pathway to condemning a same-sex relationship that is chaste and exclusive as any other Christian relationship ought to be.

  • What does Jesus teach about homosexuality?
  • Does Jesus’ teachings on love and acceptance relate to same-sex marriages within the church?

Christians will often try and make the debate about homosexuality and same-sex marriage “simple” by pointing to the story of Sodom and the provision in Leviticus and will say “Jesus would condemn the homosexual.” Like most things that seem simple and clear cut, there is actually more here than what meets the eye. For starters, it is dishonest from a Christian perspective to start any discussion on any topic without starting with Christ and ending with the Law He fulfilled. The Bible from a chronological perspective starts with creation and moves through Abraham, Moses and the prophets all leading up to the birth of Christ and His death and resurrection. But the Bible from a Christian perspective works backward with His Death and Resurrection as the focal point and moving back through the prophets. And there is a very important reason for this, while we stumbled through the Old Testament as humanity we were like a hiker with a poor flashlight. We got glimpses of the Lord and our position within the universe, but it was never made clear to us and this is evident in some of the wild and crazy things that happen in the Old Testament. And then comes a friend with a bright light, brighter than any star including the sun. And our path is illuminated. And just like that hiker, we can see our entire path and beyond with this new Light. That Light is Christ. So an honest Christian does not waste their time stumbling through the dark because, as Saint John tells us, we have the Word now among us. Why would we blindfold ourselves and hike the path when we have daylight to guide us? So let’s start with Christ.

Christ says absolutely nothing about homosexuality. Period. He does, however, say a lot about love and acceptance. And He does a lot to show this acceptance in practise. For example, He dines with a tax collector who would have been the most hated and reviled person in any ancient city of His time. There is most certainly a parallel here between the tax collector and those we have made the most hated and reviled people in society (homosexuals are pretty high up on that list by the way). If Jesus was here today, I truly believe that without question, He would attend a Pride Parade and it would rile up many within the Church establishment (much the same as it angered the Jewish establishment when He ate with the tax collector). He also says something very powerful during the Sermon on the Mount which I think has real life application today: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Ironic that most militant Christians would actually quote both of those Beatitudes to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage, but they have terribly missed the mark here. For the last Beatitude wraps up the entire Sermon perfectly, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Again, the militant Christian will attempt to claim that in modern society they are being oppressed by having to give up their beliefs in the name of the same love and acceptance that Christ directly preaches, you tell me who is bearing false evils against who in this argument? I think it is pretty clear.

Following the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the Apostle Paul writes that laying with a man is an abomination before the Lord. The only problem is that we are cherry picking to the extreme his entire letter when we confine that statement to just being about homosexuals. Let’s take a look at the entire passage:

Therefore God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons due penalty for their error.

But Saint Paul is not talking about modern homosexuality. He is talking about lust and lustful sexual acts. He is talking about the trends of his own time where powerful men took boy slaves as sex toys and woman often the same with their male servants. This was seen as lavish and unholy because it is lavish and unholy. Most people today (include almost all homosexuals) would agree just the same as Saint Paul is pushing us to see. However, we have twisted this powerful message into something so small and insignificant that we have lost sight of the meaning. This line could very well to applied to same-sex relationships, in that they ought to be between two people who love one another and that we should consider promiscuous sexual acts to be immoral because they are a form of degrading the human body and spirit. This applies to opposite-sex relationships as well. And we do see what happens when a person engages in irresponsible serial sexual relationships with no end, there is often a physical and mental toll on the person over time. This is what Saint Paul is getting at, this is how this passage is supposed to be understood. It is not about homosexuals.

There is absolutely no guidance in the Bible that would offer any insight on how we should deal with same-sex relationships as we understand them today. Aside from the clear message of love and acceptance. This is not a carte blanche for members of the gay community to turn to sexual relationships outside of marriage and to engage in promiscuous sexual lifestyles. In fact, same-sex couples are called to the same level of fidelity, honesty, love and exclusivity as opposite-sex couples and even single people. This is the Christian way. However, because we have cast out homosexuals writ large from the Christian community we have essentially forced a life of sinfulness on to an entire group of people, we have caused a group of people to become persecuted and we have done it in the name of Christ (sound familiar). We do not permit same-sex marriage in the Christian church, so we have condemned the good gay Christians who want a life together with the same amount of Christ-like love and support as the heterosexual couple from enjoying the fruits of marriage. This is our sin as Christians and our problem as Christians to fix.

Blaise Pascal was a famous mathematician and part-time philosopher who, while very sick and dying in his deathbed, scribbled thoughts on scraps of paper which were posthumously complied and became known as Pensées (French for ‘thoughts’). There was a gem of logic in what we now call Pascal’s Wager. Basically, he concluded that it was better to believe in God because if you were right than you enjoyed eternal life and if you were wrong than you suffered eternal punishment. Conversely, if you didn’t believe and were wrong you were punished and if you were right you gained nothing in the after-life that didn’t exist. I’ve always had a fondness for this wager because it can be understood by the pagan without an entire introduction to the Bible and Christian thought. It can also be applied to how Christians should act as Christians. For example, in the face of an unclear moral question is it better to condemn or to accept. If we condemn and we are right we gain satisfaction in the face of the Lord. If we condemn and are wrong we face damnation. If we accept and are wrong we at least followed the example of Christ. If we accept and we are right than we gain satisfaction. I believe that acceptance over condemnation in the face of unclear moral questions is a defence which would be acceptable to God on Judgement Day. I, for one, would rather stand before God to justify why I accepted and loved so and so regardless of their actions over standing before God to justify why I cast away one of His creations.

Featured image by Ben White on Unsplash.

Reflections on Advent – Hope

In his book Back to Virtue professor Peter Kreeft writes that hope is the “forgotten virtue of our time.” For him, hope means hope for heaven which the daily grind of modern life does not inspire us to look upward and therefore actively thwarts. Or as he beautifully puts it, “hope means that our heads do not bump up against the low ceiling of this world; hope means that the exhilarating, wonderful and terrifying winds of Heaven blow in our ears.”

While I absolutely agree with the sentiment of hope that Kreeft presents as the opening up of any limitation of this earthy world. I disagree somewhat that hope is entirely lost on this world. I might dare say that hope exists in more measure than faith does within our modern world (but that is a topic for another reflection post). Hope is not an action in and of itself, hope is the motivator of action. Just as how gasoline in and of itself does not make the car move, it simply provides the energy for the movements of all of the parts to occur in such a way and in such conditions that you are able to safely control the vehicle on the road. Hope is certainly not tangible, indeed none of the virtues are tangible, but hope has a presence that can be felt, especially at times when it is fleeting.

The best example of this I can think is given in a movie with Robin Williams called Jacob The Liar. In the movie Williams plays a Jew in the ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Through a series of (funny, because Robin Williams) events, a rumour starts within the ghetto that he has a radio and listens to broadcasts from the BBC about allies making advances against the Germans. I won’t spoil the movie beyond this (because I highly recommend watching it yourself if you haven’t), but what is important for this post is the hope that is generated and surrounds Williams’ character– something he himself comes to realize despite being a perpetual pessimist. Some people in the ghetto commit suicide because they lose hope of anything changing for them in the ghetto, some people change their dark thinking because of the hope that Jacob brings to the people with his stories from the radio. This hope keeps the people going, and interestingly enough it keeps Williams’ character motivated to continue to take risks and obtain information to keep the hope alive.

It is in this spirit that we enter into the Advent season– reminding ourselves and reliving the hope of the people of Israel during a very important and turbulent time in their history. It is almost 500 years before the birth of Christ and we find ourselves in Judah with a prophet named Jeremiah who has access to the great courts of the land. Jeremiah speaks with tremendous authority, so great that kings listen to his every word– and this is because the words that Jeremiah speaks do not come from a man, but from God Himself.

And it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that this word came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,

Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day…Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book. Jeremiah 36:1-2, 4 (KJV)

What Jeremiah says is in fact so controversial and so clear that the writings we have of it today in the Bible have actually been edited several times over by Jewish scholars. The meaning has not changed, but there is strong literary evidence to support edits within the book of the prophet Jeremiah which seek to soften the blow of what the prophet foretells. And there is something even more unique in Jeremiah as a prophet from God, he speaks of the coming of a king that would be like David of old who would unite Israel and Judea. The prophet Ezekiel speaks clearly of the coming of the Messiah, or anointed one:

And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:

And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all…And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. Ezekiel 37:21-22, 24 (KJV)

This is the hope that the people of Israel have for the restoration of the people of God. And we share this same hope today because when Christ came He spoke His return and day of judgement. This is when He will take his authority and place in the Kingdom of Heaven and every knee shall bend to His Holy Name. But first today we wait, we sit silently, patiently in the desert waiting for the voice of God. Isaiah tells us to listen to the voice in the wilderness that cries out: prepare the way of the Lord. We put away all things of sinful lust and sins of the flesh and we prepare our bodies and minds for the coming of our Lord– the coming of God. Soon the curtain between the sanctuary and the people will be torn, and the link between man and God created in Jesus Christ. Death will be conquered and the cycle of sin will be broken by the one of likeness of man, as a Son of Man, who will come and unite all people under His rule and dominion.

But first we wait, we sit silently, patiently in the desert waiting for the voice of God.

This reflect is dedicated to BeautyBeyondBones whose Christian faith and incredible spirit pours forth from her blog and into the world. A truly inspiring Christian blogger who exhibits the kind of hope I am struggling to convey to you here in words– certainly worth a follow this Advent season.

God of mercy and consolation, help us in our weakness and free us from sin. Hear our prayers that we may rejoice at the coming of your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Featured image by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash.