As the moral and cultural tides shift with tsunami-like speed, how should the church of Jesus Christ respond to the idea of same-sex “marriage,” the issue of homosexuality, and people who disagree?
It is practically impossible to go a day avoiding the issue, the debate, the presence of homosexuality in the United States of America. Could you imagine that sentence being true even ten years ago? That’s how quickly the times have changed, not that it hasn’t been a long (or at least a longer) time coming. Homosexuality, through a vociferous cultural campaign, has gone mainstream to the point that any who dare to speak of it as a sin are now deemed out of touch, out of step, ignorant, bigoted, irrelevant, and/or more. “How did this happen?” you may have asked yourself, or another. Pardon the pun, but it feels like the country, not to mention the church, got caught with its proverbial pants down. But where do we go from here? Let’s consider some things…
First things first. Let’s be clear. Same-sex “marriage” is not marriage.
“The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.’ For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” – Gen 2:22-24
Right there, right from the very beginning, before sin even entered the world, God created marriage. He created it between a man and a woman, and since He created it He, and no one else, gets to define it.
All over Scripture, a husband is spoken of in relation to his wife, and a wife in relation to her husband. A father and mother are spoken of together in relation to their children, never a father and father or mother and mother. The bottom line is that there is not one scintilla of biblical support for the idea that marriage is anything other than the union of one man and one woman ‘til death do they part. Jesus agrees (see also Matt 19:4-6).
So right away Christians need to show that we should not, and we must not, cede the ground on what marriage is in the first place, and who gets to define it. [Note from Matt: If you ever see me type same-sex “marriage” without quotation marks around marriage or without calling it “so-called,” it will have been by mistake.] As believers in Jesus Christ we must stand firm in our belief that He is Lord and that He has clearly revealed His will about marriage in His word. The whole argument, for the church at least, rides on this.
Homosexuality: Is it a sin today?
Many homosexuals and supporters of so-called “homosexual rights,” even some who call themselves evangelical Christians, attempt to make some argument that homosexuality is not a sin today, that there is nothing wrong and/or unnatural about it. In the 1990s sitcoms contributed to the destigmatization of this sin which catchphrases like, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” Today, it’s those who would continue calling homosexuality a sin that have the stigma, while the sin is not merely tolerated, but celebrated and foisted upon nearly ever level of the culture.
But as the prophet wrote, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isa 5:20).
As Christians we must also reject out of hand any attempt by anyone to redefine how God, and thus His people, should view homosexuality today.
We believe that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Tim 3:16), and thus we believe Hebrews 13:8 is true – that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is not like a man that He would change His mind (1 Sam 15:29).
Thus, when He renders a judgment against homosexual acts such as He does in Leviticus 18:22 (“You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.), that means what it says; namely, that homosexual acts are an abomination.
One modern argument against this line of thinking is that things have changed with the coming of Jesus Christ, and the New Testament is a message of love and not law, grace and not guilt. While Jesus did inaugurate the New Covenant, however, that does not change God’s view on moral issues. Never, not one time, does Jesus nullify a moral judgment God made in the Old Testament. In fact, He often broadens the scope for moral judgment. Murder goes from literal killing to hating your brother. Adultery from the physical act to the sin of lust.
And if God’s view toward homosexuality, expressed in Leviticus 18:22, was changed at the cross, who’s to say it didn’t also change with regards to the very next verse, Leviticus 18:23, which forbids intercourse with animals, rightly calling it a perversion.
Homosexuals and those supporting their agenda, when they use Scripture to support their arguments, are picking and choosing what to deem God’s word, which parts to obey and ignore. That just doesn’t work if Jesus is really Lord.
Beyond that, the New Testament is equally clear, and perhaps even more so, that homosexuality is sinful. The apostle Paul couldn’t be writing more clearly, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, in Romans 1:26-27, “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.” Paul clearly states here that homosexuality is (a) bad for you – ”degrading,” (b) unnatural, (c) indecent, (d) will result in penalty, and is (e) error. By the way, this was written after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, by an apostle saved by and taught directly by Jesus Himself (Gal 1:12). The New Testament is equally clear on homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. Any attempt to dispute such is to reject the plain teaching of the word of God.
As Christians, we cannot bow to the lords of culture for the sake of acceptance or so-called relevance. The Scriptures are not only inspired and inerrant, they are also sufficient for us. We do not need the satisfaction of being told we are right by the world. We would rather hear, “Well done, My good and faithful servant,” from the Lord. We want and crave God’s favor, not man’s, because it is He that we belong to (Gal 1:10).
Thus, in the temporary situation we find ourselves in we much “hold fast to sound doctrine and refute those who contradict” (Tit 1:9) no matter the worldly costs, knowing that “the sufferings of this present are not worthy to be compared to the glory which will be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).
But what about the people?
The temptation, especially when we cringe at the degrading culture around us, is to have enmity with homosexuals, the people themselves. After all, they are endorsing sin, engaging in sin, and celebrating sin. Apart from repentance and faith in Jesus they are enemies of God (Rom 5:10).
But then again, we have to remember that we, too, are sinners in need of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). The wages of our sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23). If we are saved, it is by grace through faith; and that not of ourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that we could never boast (Eph 2:8-9).
We must remember what Paul said to the Corinthian church which struggled so badly with some sexual sins of their own: “such were some of you” (1 Cor 6:11). And that ought to humble us instead of inspire hatred of the people themselves. We are waging war against the flesh, against sin, but not against people. The old adage “hate the sin, love the sinner” may sound cliche, and perhaps it is… but it’s also right.
Without quieting the prophetic voice in the wilderness the church has been called to be – that is to say, without clearly calling homosexuality the sin that it is – believers in Jesus Christ need to love homosexuals with what Dr. Russell Moore, newly elected President of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, calls “convictional kindness.”1
We have to realize that we, in and of ourselves, aren’t going to cause anyone trapped in the sin of homosexuality to come out of it. Only the grace of God given to us through the saving power of the gospel can save sinners… from any sin. So without ever endorsing homosexuality or supporting a homosexual in their rebellion against God, we must be prepared to not hate the person, but love them and point them to Jesus Christ. Any hatred of the people themselves betrays the work God has already done in us.
What about the country? What about the church?
Well, as far as the country goes, it doesn’t look good. Christians aren’t supposed to be bound to a political party, but it is discouraging when one major party fully endorses and promotes homosexuality, and now the other major party has major players capitulating on the issue.2
Recently, two cases were presented before the Supreme Court, and judgments are expected to be handed down in June. One cannot say for certain what those nine justices will determine, but it is not expected that they will reverse the overturn of Proposition 8 in California, passed by voters to prohibit same-sex “marriage.” Nor does it look positive that the Defense of Marriage Act, passed overwhelmingly by Congress in 1996 and signed by President Clinton, will be upheld.
Increasingly, and with greater intensity, it appears as if convictional Christians are going to be marginalized in the public square for holding to the view that marriage is between one man and one woman and that homosexuality is sinful. The frequency and degree with which we will be welcomed, even permitted, to voice the truth will lessen. And as the world attempts to muffle our gospel voice, they will be in turn seek to harm the body of Christ in other way. Therefore, we must be prepared to suffer the cultural consequences for our trust in Jesus as Lord and belief that His word is true.
We must make much of Jesus and have greater concern for His kingdom than we do for the politics our own country. That is not say we shouldn’t support causes and politicians that are right – we should! – but we must remember that Jesus is our King, not America, and not freedom.
To that end, we must also realize that the homosexual debate is also inevitably (already? yes, already!) a war on religious liberty in this country. That’s not going to end anytime soon. Thus, churches, including ours, should prepare ourselves spiritually for the stripping away of our freedoms to belief and worship as we see fit. I type that with the utmost seriousness. Also, churches should perhaps consider clearly defining marriage in our legal documents, explain who can perform weddings, who can get married in our church, and what we believe real marriage to be. Baptist Press recently published an article speaking about this.3
In the end, we can find comfort that at the end of Revelation Jesus is still King, His church is with Him, and all will be made right at His Second Coming. Indeed, it was at His first coming that He promised He would build His church and that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. God will take care of His people. Praise the Lord!
In the meantime, we must stand firm in the faith, trust wholly in Christ, speak for marriage as God defines it, prophetically call homosexuality what it is, and yet love people and point sinners trapped in the sin of homosexuality to Jesus Christ.
We, too, were yet sinners, and Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Perhaps He will use us to demonstrate His own love toward someone beset by this sin. Let us, then, glorify God by being all (not some) of what He has called us to be in Christ.
1 You can read an interview with Dr. Moore at http://thegospelcoalition.org/mobile/article/justintaylor/an-interview-with-russell-moore-the-new-president-of-the-ethics-religious-liberty-commission. It’s well worth your time.
2 See this http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2013/03/25/priebus-rnc-gay-marriage/2017901/ and http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/03/15/17323938-gops-rob-portman-announces-support-for-same-sex-marriage?lite.
3 The Alliance Defending Freedom warns that churches should take steps to shield themselves legally. http://www.bpnews.net/bpnews.asp?id=39695