Questions on Social Issues

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In a society that stresses equality between men and women, why do most confessional Lutherans and other conservative churches choose to limit leadership and authority roles in congregations to men?

We do believe and teach that men and women enjoy equal status and importance before God. Both men and women were created in the perfect holiness of the image of God (Genesis 1:27). Although that was lost in the fall into sin when as both men and women we became equally sinful before God (Romans 3:23), yet in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us God has restored to us our position as his justified and holy children (Romans 3:24). As far as our status and importance before him as dearly loved children and heirs of heaven, whether we are female or male makes absolutely no difference (Galatians 3:26-29).

However, Scripture is also clear that while we are equal in status and importance before him, God has not made us duplicates or clones of each other in how we carry out our various God-given callings. Already in the perfection of the Garden of Eden he assigned unique callings or roles to the man and the woman when God made her to be helper suitable for the man and created her right from the man (Genesis 2:18ff). God gave to the man the unique calling of being a loving head and to his wife the unique calling of being a loving helper to him. In the New Testament, the inspired Apostle Paul assures us that these unique callings were indeed found already in the perfection of Eden when he writes, “Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3). Later Paul reminds us that what we read in Genesis 2 is indeed where this was established when he says, “For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman but woman for man” (1 Corinthians 11:8-9).

While man’s headship is intended by God to be lived out in loving servant humility like Christ for us (Ephesians 5:25), yet headship also includes the God-given authority to lead (Hebrews 13:17). That is why one part of the unique calling of helper is to respect and yield (submit) to that leadership (Ephesians 5:22).

In the church, one of the places that those charged with leadership in our congregations exercise such authority is in the voters’ assembly. There those charged with setting the direction of the congregation set that path in the debate and voting that takes place. Just as Paul reminds us that teaching the Word with authority is an expression of the headship principle (1 Timothy 2:12), so also it is an exercise of authority when the governing bodies of our congregations set the direction for that congregation.

Of course, wise heads know that God has given them helpers for a reason. The wisdom and insights, the questions and concerns of everyone in the congregation, men and women, are important. Especially when a woman may have no husband in her home, it is very important that the congregation look for ways to gain her input.

Does WELS stand out as different among other Lutheran church bodies in so honoring the principle of head and helper? Yes. But does that mean we are closed minded and old fashioned, or does that mean others have been more affected by the culture around them than they may know? The question is never what the culture demands, but what the Scriptures teach.

Why do some people say that homosexuality was not in God's plan for us, and that it’s a sin. I ask this question because there are a lot of individuals, men and women, who say that they've always been attracted to the same sex since they were kids. If it is a sin as some have preached and stated, why would God allow that to happen if he knew us before he came to be as he states in Jeremiah 1:5?

We say that homosexuality is not in God’s plan for us and that it is a sin because that is what the Bible says. Jeremiah 1:5 is about God knowing his plan to call Jeremiah as his prophet. It says nothing about God approving every one as they are. Sin has made people into something God never intended them to be. The following statement summarizes our view on homosexuality on the basis of the Bible.

The dispute over whether homosexuality is an inborn disposition or a free choice, the national debate over the legalization of same-sex marriages, the conflict that is rising in many denominations over the ordination of practicing homosexuals, and the sharp disagreement about the blessing of same sex marriages by the church are among the current issues that may lead people to ask, “What is WELS’ stance on these issues?” WELS does not have an official statement on these issues, but our public teaching and practice is based on what the Bible teaches concerning homosexuality.

The best place to begin a discussion of the issue is with 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, because this passage emphasizes both the law and the gospel elements of addressing this issue.

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

On the basis of this and other passages of Scripture we must draw the following conclusions about homosexuality.

Scripture declares that homosexuality is a sin, which is contrary to God’s intention in creating man and woman. Sinful resistance to the revealed will of God is a factor in this sin. People may become slaves to this sin (Romans 1:18-31, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Many factors contribute to individual acts of sin: the sinful nature we are born with, the weaknesses of our bodies, evil influences in our environment, temptations and encouragement from other sinners, and our own sinful choice join together lead us into sin. All of these factors contribute to homosexual sin. The proportionate role of these various factors may very from case to case.

We must warn the impenitent that homosexuality, like all sins, excludes people from eternal life (1 Cor 6:9-10).

We are happy to assure the repentant who are struggling against this sin that they have complete forgiveness through the blood of Christ. When Christ died for all of the sins of the whole world, he gained forgiveness for homosexual deeds, for homosexual desires, and for the inborn sinful nature which produces these sins (1 Cor 6:11).

We should sympathize with all who are struggling against this sin, remembering that we too have “pet sins” which may have a strong hold on us. We warn against a “selective morality” which harshly condemns homosexuality or other sins which we observe in others while treating those sins which are present in our own lives more lightly (Mt 7:1-5). We should be impartial and unbiased in warning against all sins.

We all look forward to the resurrection of the body. Then all the weaknesses of body and soul which now lead us into sin will disappear forever. Then all of us will be able to serve God perfectly and purely in everything we do.

Note on Homosexuality as Innate or Chosen:

Some advocates of legal and religious tolerance of homosexuality claim that homosexuality has a genetic cause. Some reports claim that some homosexual men share a particular pattern in the X sex-chromosome which they received from their mother. Other researchers have claimed the existence of other types of biological similarities between homosexual men. These researchers acknowledge that their discovery cannot account for all homosexuality and may merely be associated with homosexuality rather than being a direct cause of it. Most researchers conclude that the origins of homosexuality are complex and varied and may never be fully understood.

How should we evaluate such claims in the light of the biblical teaching of sin? Is homosexuality a free choice or an inborn tendency?

Like many such either-or questions, this question poses a false dilemma. Every sin is both a choice of the will and the expression of an inborn tendency to sin. Our sinful will is guilty of consent whenever we sin in thought, word, or deed. As a result of our sinful nature we take pleasure in our sins and defend them. This universal tendency is apparent also in the efforts of gay rights activists to condone their homosexuality and to deny that anything is wrong with it.

Although the consent of our sinful will is present in every sin, it is also true that we are born as slaves of sin. We may also yield to a particular sin so often that we no longer control the sin, but the sin controls us. We may find ourselves yielding to sin even when we don’t want to.

Sin infects both our body and our soul. The body we now have is not the perfect body which God created for Adam and Eve. It has been contaminated by the effects of sin. There is no reason to maintain that the specific effects of sin have been identical in each one of us or that we are all equally susceptible to every sin. Our individual degree of susceptibility to some specific sins may be due in part to differences in our bodies. Abuse of alcohol and a hot temper are just two examples of sins which may be affected by the chemistry of our bodies. Few would deny that the pressure to sexual sin is greater at 18 than it is at 8 or at 88 and that a primary reason for this is the changing chemistry of our bodies. It may well be that a person’s susceptibility to homosexuality or to certain other sins depends in part on bodily differences.

Even though the weakness of our own body may be one factor which leads us to sin, God holds us responsible for all of our sins, even those sins which enslave us and those sins which we are not aware of. We need God’s forgiveness even for those sinful desires which we resist and do not act upon. These desires too are sin. (Read Romans 7 for a treatment of slavery to sin).

Is it against God's plan for mothers to work outside the home? I am the mother of two children. I have been financially supporting our family since we have been married. My husband now has a pretty good job but makes about half of what I do. I always felt like God wanted me to stay home and take care of our children; however, I have never been able to do this. Is it okay for moms to work?

Neither you nor I will be able to find a Scripture passage that explicitly forbids mothers from working outside the home.  This is an area of Christian freedom and one in which a person’s conscience enters the picture as far as decision making is concerned.

What I can do is list some questions for you and your husband to consider.  My purpose in putting these questions in front of you is not to steer you to any particular course of action but to help you answer the question:  “Is it okay for moms to work?”

So, in regard to your employment and your husband’s employment, is materialism an issue?   Is income from your job needed or wanted?  Is your income a matter of sustaining a standard of living you have become accustomed to but is not necessary?  Are current and/or future family expenses driving your decision (e.g., children’s educational costs)?  How does your work impact your responsibilities as a mother and a wife?  Do you think it’s wrong for you to work outside the home?

The answers to those first five questions are important, but the answer to the last question is vitally important.  Scripture explains (Romans 14) that if we set up a law in our mind, even if God has not, we need to follow that course of action.  In this case, if a mom were to think that it is wrong to work outside the home, that person needs to follow the leading of her conscience.

Then again, another Christian could explain to that mom that there is no explicit scriptural prohibition of her working outside the home.  The mom’s thinking could then change, and the law she had established about outside employment would disappear—enabling her to do in good conscience what she had previously thought was wrong.

So, this is really is a matter for you and your husband to discuss, and for you to sort things out with your scripturally-tethered conscience.  In all things we want to act with sure conviction, not in doubt (Romans 14).

I do commend you for being sensitive to your conscience and desirous of doing what God says in his Word.  God bless your discussions—and your family.

Is abortion a sin?

The Holy Scriptures clearly teach that the living, yet unborn, are persons in the sight of God (Job 10:9-11, Psalm 139:13, Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:41-44) and are under the protection of his commandment against murder (Exodus 20:13, Matthew 5:21, Genesis 9:6).

Therefore, abortion is a sin unless it is medically necessary in order to save the life of the mother. But even when a medical abortion appears needed to preserve a mother’s life, the Christian will always proceed with the intent to preserve all human life whenever possible.

It is the degenerating result of sin in our world that creates such dilemmas in our lives. But these challenges spur us to search God’s Word and to make decisions consistent with his will. In the very sad circumstance of having to choose to preserve one life rather than lose two lives, the weight of Scripture’s message telling us to protect life compels us to try to preserve both lives, or at least one life, whichever is possible.

All other reasons for abortion fail to reflect God’s high regard for human life and our responsibility to protect it.

Since the majority of abortions currently performed show disregard for God’s gift of life, we as Christians want to express concern and compassion for distressed, pregnant women by supporting the development of God-pleasing alternatives to abortion programs.

I am looking towards Alcoholics Anonymous to help overcome a drinking problem. What is your opinion on AA? Would it be beneficial for a Christian to go to this group or not? Thank you

As a church body, we have concerns about the religious aspects of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  In step number 2 of The Twelve Steps, there is acknowledgement of a “Power greater than ourselves.”  Participants in AA are free to define who or what that Power is.

In step number 3 there is reference to “God as we understood him.”  Participants in AA are free to define God however they understand him.

Step number 11 uses the same wording:  “God, as we understood him.”  Once again, participants in AA are free to understand God however they like.

As Christians, we know that is not like selecting an answer for a multiple choice question where all the choices are equally valid.   In the Bible God explains clearly who he is.  He is a Triune God:  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  AA certainly fails to provide clear testimony to the truth of God’s Word.  And while AA provides opportunities for Christians to state their beliefs, circumstances can be such where Christian witness is absent much more than present.

Joint prayer at AA meetings is another concern.  Scripture directs us to refrain from activities like prayer when we are with others who do not share a common belief (Romans 16:17).

In light of all this, WELS members have been able to participate in AA by not taking part in joint prayer.  In addition, they have recognized the concerns in the three steps mentioned previously and have not, by their words and actions, endorsed the idea that people may define God however they want.

No doubt you can see that we need to be cautious if we are considering utilizing AA.  Unlike the Scouting movement or lodges that require participation in their religious elements, AA does not demand that Christians compromise their faith.  They provide opportunities to do so, but Christians need to turn down those opportunities.  If you utilize AA, it would be good to debrief with your pastor, as you can, to steer clear of any issues that might impact your faith negatively.

Finally, be aware that WLCFS-Christian Family Solutions is able to provide the services you need without the concerns of AA that have been mentioned.  That would be my first recommendation to you.  God bless your efforts in overcoming this issue in your life.

Can homosexuals go to heaven and are practicing Christians supposed to love them?

A distinction needs to be made in answering your question.  “Homosexuals” can refer to Christians who struggle with temptation to engage in same-sex sins.  These individuals recognize the sinfulness of thoughts and actions that run contrary to God’s word that spells out that sexual relations are for men and women in marriage (Hebrews 13:4).  They fight against those temptations.  They confess their sins when they fall into temptation.  They look to Jesus Christ for forgiveness of their sins and strength to fight temptation better in the future.

In contrast to these individuals are “homosexuals” who deny, ignore and rationalize their same-sex sins.  They see no need to confess sins in this regard.  It is people with this impenitent attitude that the apostle Paul had in mind when he wrote:  “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived:  Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  You notice that it is not a particular sin that characterizes people as “wicked” and bars them from the kingdom of God.  It is impenitence.

Are Christians supposed to love homosexuals?  Yes.  Christians are to love people no matter what their characterizing sin might be.  Why?  Because it is pretty loveless to recognize the spiritual danger people are in by their sins and impenitence, and say nothing.  If we love people, we will have every reason to point them to God’s law so they can recognize and confess their sins, and point them to God’s gospel so they can enjoy forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus who came into the world “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Is there a simple answer for why many "mainline" Christian denominations, including the largest Lutheran body in this country, either remain silent or now actually officially teach morality contrary to Scripture, e.g., abortion can be tolerated, homosexual marriage? Assuming congregation members are aware of and understand what's being taught, are they truly Christians? What about the leadership?

Much can be attributed to a denial of the authority of Scripture.  The clergy of the churches reflected in your question are trained in the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation.  That method rejects the verbal inspiration of the Bible and opens the door for people to say that the Bible contains mistakes, inaccuracies and contradictions.  That method rejects the idea that Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote the gospels that bear their names.  That method leads people to look at Bible passages that are not popular today and say, “It would not be loving to take these words literally, so let’s see how the Spirit of God might lead us to understand and apply these words differently in our day and age.”  You can see that it is people’s wrong attitudes toward Scripture that lead to false doctrine and the approval of sinful actions.

You and I can judge actions—and we are to do that by lining up people’s actions against God’s word—but we cannot and dare not try to judge hearts.  God alone knows whether or not there is saving faith in people’s hearts.

What you and I can do is testify to others about God’s Word:  that all of it is true (John 17:17), that all of Scripture is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16) and that the words the human biblical authors wrote were the words they received from God (1 Corinthians 2:13).

With all the changes of how people dress throughout history and more recently within the last 50 years of how women dress more like men, what is the view of men dressing like women? Is it OK for women to dress like men as it appears it is socially acceptable in society and when attending church? Is it OK for men to dress like women? Didn't the men and women in biblical times dress similarly? This question is in regard to cross dressing only without being involved in homosexual activities.

In Deuteronomy 22:5 God had instructed Old Testament Israel:  “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.”  The People’s Bible Commentary on Deuteronomy provides a good explanation of that command and a response to your question.

“While this law might sound like a blanket prohibition against wearing any clothing ordinarily worn by the opposite sex, some commentators have seen a deeper meaning here.  There was a connection between cross-dressing and some features of Canaanite fertility religion.  Worship directed to Astarte, the twin sister of Baal, sometimes featured men masquerading in women’s clothing and women appearing in men’s clothing.  Homosexuality was also associated with Baal worship.

“The New Testament contains no hard-and-fast regulations for the kind of clothing God wants his people to wear, but it does include general principles for people of all times.  Peter told women, ‘Your beauty should not come from outward adornment.’  Such outward adornment will take various forms and styles in different cultures.  ‘Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight’ (1 Peter 3:4).  Paul urged women to ‘dress modestly, with decency and propriety’ (1 Timothy 2:9).  Paul told the Corinthians that ‘every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head.  And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head’ (1 Corinthians 11:4, 5).  The details of the Corinthian custom aren’t entirely clear to us, but God wants the customs among any group of people faithfully to reflect the roles he’s designed for men and women.

“Styles change from one time and place to another; it’s impossible to dictate a specific dress code for all the rest of human history.  God wants men and women to appreciate the dignity of their own sex, instead of assuming the appearance or preferring the role of the opposite sex” (pp. 197-198).

To those thoughts I would add the reminder of what Christian freedom is all about.  In areas of Christian freedom I am mindful of what is in the best interests of others and how my actions might negatively affect them.  While Christian freedom means that I can pursue a course of action, Christian freedom also means I have the right not to do something.

In an age where homosexuality has gained acceptance among many, there is also more consideration for changing one's sex. What does the Bible say about such surgery and practices?

I would anticipate that in the future more will be written in our circles on this topic.  At the present time, I can refer you to a report that addresses your question and related questions.  The report is “Gender Identity Disorder or Gender Dysphoria in Christian Perspective,” and was produced by the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.  The report can certainly serve as a starting point in addressing your question.  Of special note is the “Pastoral Care for Gender Identity Confusion” section in the report.

Your question highlights yet another situation and circumstance in our day and age to which Christians can apply God’s law and gospel to all involved.

Gun ownership. To what extent might a believer in Christ defend himself against the physical threats to himself or his loved ones in this world today?

It is the “to what extent” phrase of your question that requires individual and conscientious application of biblical principles.

Some Christians look to Matthew 5:39 and Romans 12:17 as absolute directives not to resist physical threats.  In their context though the verses advocate love toward others instead of seeking revenge.

Others look to sections of Scripture like Proverbs 24:11-12 and Luke 22:35-38 as the basis for defending oneself and one’s family from physical threats.  The second reference does inform us that the disciples were lightly armed.  John 18:10-11 describes Peter’s wrongful use of one of those weapons as he tried to interfere with the Lord’s humble submission to his Father’s will.  The positive emphasis of the Fourth Commandment “to help and befriend [our neighbor] in every bodily need” can find application in defending oneself and one’s family with a weapon.

But, again, it’s the “to what extent” phrase that individual Christians will need to address.  There are governmental laws controlling the purchase and usage of guns.  There are legally-mandated gun-free zones and right to carry laws.  Christians will seek to recognize and honor Fourth Commandment and Fifth Commandment principles and navigate through life showing love to God and others.

Is religious freedom vs. equality under the law as in the Kim Davis situation an issue whereby we must obey God rather than men, or is the believer subject to obey the law when elected to uphold the law?

The situation you are referencing is a good reminder of how challenging it can be when Christians live in two kingdoms:  the church and the state.  While God’s word guides life in the church, natural law and human reason are to guide life in the state.  Sometimes the state enacts laws that are contrary to natural law and human reason.  What then?  Is the state, the government, still God’s servant (Romans 13)?  Yes, but not a very faithful servant.  God requires our respect of and obedience toward government officials not necessarily because they deserve respect and obedience by their actions but because governing authorities owe their existence to God, serving as his representatives.

Christians who want to serve in the state can do so—even when laws run contrary to God’s word—by recognizing that the state operates on different principles than the church.  Moses recognized that.  As the leader of the church, he penned under inspiration of the Holy Spirit the establishment of marriage as a lifelong union between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:20-24).  As the leader of the state, he wrote certificates of divorce (Matthew 19:3-9) that served to preserve order among Israelite society.  A Christian judge might find himself in a similar situation:  being in full agreement with the Bible’s teachings of marriage and divorce (perhaps even taking part in a congregational vote on excommunication related to an unscriptural divorce), yet granting an unscriptural divorce in his court.  Such actions on his part are not hypocritical; they reflect his involvement as a member of the two kingdoms of church and state that operate with different guiding principles.

In the situation you referenced, we are not talking about a judge issuing a final decree of divorce for unscriptural reasons but a county clerk refusing to issue marriage certificates to people whose union is not biblical.  While same-sex marriage is ungodly, it is legal in our country.  Christians who find themselves in a situation where they are legally bound to issue marriage certificates to people of the same sex can take the approach of Moses or the Christian judge mentioned above, or they may take a different approach because of reasons of conscience.

Here is where approaches will differ among Christians as they explore various options.  One of the options available for the person cited in your question is to seek a different vocation where conscience would not be disturbed.  Even though she was elected to her position, she is not forced to continue in her office against her will.  It would be very understandable if she resigned for reasons of conscience.  It would also be understandable if she followed a different course of action for reasons of conscience and suffered whatever consequences might follow.

The bottom line is that there is no easy, one-size-fits-all answer to the question you posed.  Christians will prayerfully seek to determine how they can best serve and honor God as citizens of both kingdoms, recognizing the principles that guide each kingdom and applying them as faithfully as they can to their situations.

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