There has been quite a bit of controversy over the recent vote of the United Methodist Church’s delegates at a special session of the denomination’s General Conference. They voted for a “traditional plan” that forbids same-sex marriage and excludes LGBT clergy.
I have been asked about this from a number of people and thought it might be appropriate for me to write a few words on the subject.
Several weeks ago I was struck by the words of an old Anglican prayer for the unity of the church. It went like this:
We beseech thee to inspire continually the Universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity and concord; and grant that all those who do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of Thy holy word, and live in unity and Godly love.
This prayer provides insight into how the church finds unity, and that is to “agree in the truth of Thy holy word.” This is the heart of the issue. Those opposing this recent vote did not agree with what the scripture says about homosexuality.
The Bible addresses this issue in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus, of course, viewed the Old Testament as the word of God. He quotes it 92 times and considered it the final authority in life (though he did dispense with the Jewish ceremonial laws). Jesus would have never approved homosexuality because the Old Testament law strictly forbids it.
For instance, in Leviticus, God says to Moses:
Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, that is detestable. Leviticus 18:22
Then two chapters later, God again says to Moses:
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. Leviticus 20:13
Clearly the word detestable conveys a clear moral judgment regarding the sin of homosexual practice.
In the book of Romans, Paul is speaking of what happens when people abandon God and exchange the truth of God for a lie. He says:
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
This is what the scripture says. There is no other way to interpret these words.
In Mathew’s Gospel, the words that clearly speak of God’s intent for marriage come from Jesus Himself:
Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” Matthew 19:4-6
John Stott, the great Anglican scholar and priest said that “Jesus’s words explain the profound mystery of heterosexual intimacy, which poets and philosophers have celebrated in every culture in history.” He goes on to say:
“Heterosexual intercourse is much more than a union of the bodies; it is a blending of complementary personalities through which, in the midst of prevailing alienation, the rich, created oneness of human being is experienced again. And the complementarity of male and female sexual organs is only a symbol at the physical level of a much deeper spiritual complementarity.”
From these verses in Mathew, Stott says that Jesus makes 3 statements about God’s natural design. First, God “made” them male and female. Secondly, God “said” that a man must leave his parents and cleave to his wife. Thirdly, he “joined” them together in such a way that no human being might put them apart. Here, then, are three truths which Jesus affirmed:
- Heterosexual gender is a divine creation.
- Heterosexual marriage is a divine institution; and
- Heterosexual fidelity is the divine intention.
And then Stott says:
“A homosexual liaison is a breach of all three of these divine purposes.”
I can understand how a secular culture embraces homosexuality. If there is no God then there is no reason to say that any type of sexual behavior is improper. As the famous author, Dostoyevsky put it,
“If there is no God, then all things are permissible.”
However, it is a different matter within the church. The Bible is our moral authority and it provides clear teaching on marriage and sexuality. Yet it is becoming very common for people to now say, “I am a Christian, I believe in Jesus and the Bible, but I just don’t agree with what it says about homosexuality.” It is as if we can selectively decide which part of God’s word is authoritative and which is not.
Tim Keller has a great response to this. He says:
“Think about your computer. The great thing about a computer is, you can program it to do what you want it to do, and when you do that, you and your computer get along just fine, because that computer is under your control. Now contrast that with a real relationship with a person. That person will not act like a computer. They’re not robots. They have their own will; they have their own opinions; they have their own view of life. And therefore relationships will clash. Just look at your marriage or your relationship with your children. There are conflicts; you contradict each other. And if you have a relationship with anyone and there’s never any conflict or clash, it means you have turned the other person into a computer. The relationship has become mechanical and you are hiding who you really are.”
“Now, if a person says, “I want to believe in the God of the Bible, but I don’t want to believe in this particular teaching or doctrine, and I don’t accept this about God,” if that’s your point of view, then how can God ever contradict you? How can your god ever tell you something you don’t want to hear? And when you decide what you believe is true in the Bible, and what is not, what you’re actually doing is treating the Bible and God like a computer. You are creating a God that cannot talk back to you. You see, the only way you can have a God who truly speaks into your life and tells you what you do not want to hear, is by accepting and submitting your life to the Bible as being God’s truth. That’s God’s final and ultimate authority. And some of the things that God will say to you are wonderful; almost too good to be true. But then there are other things that are going to be hard to accept. But you know what? If you and I accept it as the word of truth, and are willing to surrender our wills to it, that’s when you will really begin to grow in a relationship with Him. And He’ll be a living reality in your life; a real relationship, not like a computer. And He will become the anchor of your life.”
As you look back at Biblical history, it seems those God has placed in leadership positions, often stray from God’s moral authority. The prophet Jeremiah says:
“The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule on their own authority, and my people love it so.” Jeremiah 5:31
The key phrase here is “rule on their own authority.” When Christian leaders cast aside a clear teaching of the Bible, what they are actually doing is ruling on their own authority. They generally are being persuaded by the culture, in essence by the thoughts, desires, and opinions of the people they are leading. As the verse says, “My people love it so.”
The Christian church, and each of us who profess to be followers of Christ, must decide the basis of our moral authority. It is either the word of God or the voice of our culture.