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Reformed and Evangelical Christians hold gay/same-sex attracted Christians to an untenable and unbiblical standard of sanctification. They place a yoke on gay/same-sex attracted Christians that they would not place on their own necks.

A History Lesson About Sanctification

Historically, the Reformation confessions of faith, while affirming the reality and necessity of progressive sanctification in the life of a Christian, were very careful not to place quantified values on the progress of sanctification.

In other words, in contrast to what was codified in the Council of Trent (see quote from Canon XI below), the Reformers did not schematize gradations of merit, good works, and faithfulness.

CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema. (Canon XI of the Council of Trent)

Rather, Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), particularly chapter 13, affirmed that justification and sanctification are distinct but inseparable, sanctification is necessary and progressive, but also, and most importantly, sanctification is imperfect.

In fact, the Westminster Divines made it clear that a theology of sanctification must be wide enough to include the lifelong follies of Samson and David’s seasons of heinous sin. They did not say, for example, that someone must make X amount of progress regarding sin A in order for it to be clear that they are a follower of Jesus. Nor did they make unrealistic claims that in this life, they will be entirely rid of the sins they struggle with (pace what we see in Wesleyan entire sanctification).

Rather, they phrased sanctification within the context of an ongoing war between the principalities of the flesh and the Spirit, of an internal struggle of inaugurated eschatology.

When “Progressive Sanctification” Is Coded Language

“Officers in the Presbyterian Church of America must be above reproach in their walk and Christlike in their character. Those who profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, “gay Christian,” “same sex attracted Christian,” “homosexual Christian,” or like terms) that undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires (such as, but not limited to same sex attraction), or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations, inclinations, and actions are not qualified for ordained office.” A recent overture approved by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, one of the largest Reformed denominations in the U.S.

When Reformed and Evangelical Christians claim that gay/same-sex attracted Christians must affirm the “reality and hope of progressive sanctification,” the issue is not the utterance of those words. The issue is what those words *mean* in the context of gay/same-sex attracted Christians. It more than likely means that gay/same-sex attracted Christians must have a quantifiable reduction in their same-sex attraction and/or same-sex desires within their lifetime in order for them to be authentic followers of Christ (or serve in Christ’s church). They need to follow a sort of rubric of sanctification, with the ultimate goal of an entire sanctification from their same-sex attraction/desires.

A Double Standard

But we do not require this same quantified expectation of sanctification for other sins, particularly of the heterosexual kind. We don’t require this rubric on sins such as greed, where we expect Christians to have a quantifiable level of generosity within their lifetime in order to consider them authentic Christians. We don’t require this for the sin of gluttony, so that Christians must be more and more in shape and healthy over time. We don’t require heterosexual men to be less and less attracted to women who are not their spouse over the course of their life as a Christian.

In fact, if we did require these yokes, Christians left and right would cripple under the burden. Many would excommunicate themselves, others would be in an irreparable state of despair, and others would be so full of fear of making a mistake that their hearts would remain small and unchanged by grace. We would have a serious pastoral crisis on our hands because of the unbiblical and undue burden we have placed on the average Christian.

And yet, that’s exactly what we have done to those who are gay/same-sex attracted Christians. There are many who affirm a traditional Christian sexual ethic who are simply trying to follow Jesus with us, and yet, we are placing heavy burdens and untenable expectations on them for their sanctification. We have a pastoral crisis on our hands that we have created by our own misdeeds upon these brothers and sisters in Christ.

Associate Editor for Faithfully Magazine and advocate for Christian proactive justice. https://faithfullymagazine.com/author/timothy-i-cho/