I had an interesting conversation this week with a friend in the PC(USA) denomination over the closing of Exodus International. For those who don’t know, Exodus International was a non-profit ministry that practiced ‘reparative therapy’ with LGBT folk in order to make them ‘ex-gay’. Controversy around the organization and new leadership saw the closing of Exodus in June 2013.
My friend and I disagree on the Bible’s view of homosexuality. He believes that so-called committed, monogamous homosexual relationships are faithful to Scripture. I take the orthodox, traditional view on the matter. However, I expressed how I was just as glad as he was that Exodus International closed its doors. My reasoning surprised him as I claimed that reparative therapy is unbiblical and unconfessional in the Reformed tradition.
The Reformed tradition’s summary of sanctification is faithfully stated in in the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 13. The three sections of this chapter all make important points that apply to the fruitfulness (or lack thereof) in reparative therapy.
1. Sanctification Means Progress
In WCF 13.1 we read that those who are in Christ will have “the dominion of the whole body of sin destroyed, and the several lusts thereof more and more weakened and mortified, and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces.” Indeed, there is progress, fruitfulness, growth in grace in the Christian life. The Spirit kills sin and is making us look more like Jesus. This is the point Paul makes in Colossians with his “putting off/putting on” theology of the Christian life.
2. Sanctification Means Continued Struggle
Yet, in 13.2 we read that sanctification is “imperfect in this life, there abiding still some remnants of corruption in every part; whence ariseth a continual and irreconcilable war, the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh.”
The fact of progress does not negate the fact of continuing battle in the Christian life. The confession admits that the work will be imperfect, with the implication being that remnants of corruption will remain in every part of our being until we are in glory. The flesh will always have a presence, even if weakened.
While we speak of the noetic effects of sin in terms of total depravity (that the Fall affects every crook and cranny of our humanity), the confession also speaks of the noetic remains of sin – no aspect of our humanity will remain untouched by the fall until we are in glory.
3. Sanctification is Already-But-Not-Yet
The final section of WCF 13 reads, “though the remaining corruption, for a time, may such prevail; yet through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part doth overcome; and so, the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”
This may sound confusing to the reader. Which side gets the upperhand, the Spirit or the flesh? The confession admits that remaining corruption “may such prevail”. Certain corruptions won’t necessarily prevail, but they may. The guarantee, though, is that the regenerating work of the Spirit will one day overcome all corruption. It has begun, in part (the already), but will not be guaranteed until the saints rest with Christ (the not yet).
This doctrine is related, surprisingly, to eschatology. And the Reformed eschatology of “already-but-not-yet” (i.e. the Kingdom has tangibly, significantly broken into this world but will not be fully realized in any particular aspect until the Second Advent) applies to the Christian life. The fighting off of sin and corruption (and a corruption doesn’t necessarily amount to a ‘sin’ from the individual) will see progress, but it will always continue until Jesus returns in splendor.
When it comes to reparative therapy, it is unbiblical and unconfessional for anyone to claim that a Christian will fully rid themselves of same-sex attraction/orientation. Indeed, our Savior in his sinlessness was tempted in every way we were tempted yet found without sin. And his temptation seemed to only increase as he got closer to the cross. In light of this Christology, the struggling LGBT Christian need not fret if the Lord never answers their prayer in changing their sexual desires. Indeed, that Christian in their continued struggle might be closer to Jesus than the heterosexual Christian who doesn’t experience significant temptation with sex.
This doesn’t mean that some LGBT individuals can’t have their attraction changed by the Spirit’s grace. There are plenty of authentic stories where this is the case. However, reparative therapy with its dated secular science and triumphalist eschatology has caused much damage to the psyche and souls of many Christians and non-Christians.
The path for discipleship that Jesus calls for LGBT and heterosexuals to walk is that of the church, her ordinances, and the communal ‘one anothering’ the Spirit calls us to practice. Perhaps a recovery of the doctrine of the church will better aid the difficult lives of LGBT folk than the legacy of Exodus International.