Headlines exploded this week following the release of the Nashville Statement by the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. The Nashville Statement offers multiple points of clarification regarding a “biblical position” on marriage and gender confusion.
In 2010, I witnessed how the narrative between evangelicalism and the gay community would define our landscape. We had a young man in the congregation who had spent years living a gay lifestyle. After coming to church and turning to Christ, his former lusts faded away. We asked he share his testimony. The evening of his testimony, the young man received a standing ovation from 2,000 people. However, moments later my inbox was flooded with messages condemning our “insensitivity.”
What I witnessed seven years ago is now a real-time issue for every church. Recently, minority groups of supposedly evangelical leaders sprung up to define what they call a “Third way” or pseudo gray area between the church and culture. Proponents of this liberal “Third Way” message contended they can avoid the gay marriage issue in church and simply focus on other things. In essence, they’ve elected to “Thomas Jefferson” their bible, keeping the portions that attract people, while politely ignoring the remainder of God’s counsel. But, what they must realize is that on an issue like LGBT, to give no answer is still to give an answer.
Even as cultural narratives change, the Word of God doesn’t. In fact, if God were to be changing His mind than He would be mutable, and therefore not God. Thus, if one believes the Bible is God’s word, one must accept it does not change. Whether we like what’s in it or not is an entirely different question. But even if we don’t “like” it, or find it easy to understand, we must agree that it hasn’t changed. The Bible is divine revelation. So, what has God alway said about the issue of marriage and gender?
According to Scripture, the first thing that happened after man and woman were created was union between the man and woman under God’s authority. Genesis 2:24 reads, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Jesus reiterated this truth in Matthew 19:4, “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…” Paul wrote the same in Ephesians 5:31, “For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become on flesh.” Therefore, from creation through the close of the canon, Scripture remains resolute on the definition of marriage.
In regards to homosexuality, Scripture is equally clear. A simple study of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 relates, “Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you; but you were washed, sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ…” Note, Paul doesn’t separate homosexuality out as different from other sins but expects followers of Christ to refuse all their former ways, and walk in new life.
Note, Paul doesn’t separate homosexuality out as different from other sins but expects followers of Christ to refuse all their former ways, and walk in new life.
Interestingly, society would support most everything on this list as being wrong. In many cases, society would even expect the church, school, courtroom, and public square to instruct against adultery, theft, and drunken disorder. Thus consistency would demand, they must also accept that the Bible clearly mentions homosexuality as outside of God’s design.
While reading, some propose that Paul didn’t understand culture when he wrote this. That isn’t true. Paul wrote these words when homosexuality was culturally rampant. William Barclay reports Socrates was a homosexual and Plato probably was. Plato was so effeminate he wrote a symposium on love glorifying the act of homosexual practice. It is even likely that fourteen of the first fifteen Roman emperors were homosexuals. Nero had a boy castrated so that the boy could officially become his wife. The point is that Paul knew what he was writing. The confusion of sex roles has always been around and we aren’t living in a modern era of complex struggle different from those who’ve come before.
Further, in the past two decades, science has attempted to prove homosexuality as a genetic design. However, after decades of testing and billions of dollars no such theory has ever been proven. Yes, there are proclivities toward homosexual behavior, just as every human has proclivities toward particular vices. But, these are proclivities common to every human. The Bible speaks clearly to the proclivity (and ultimately requirement) of man to sin from birth (Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 15:19, Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8-10). Thus, at birth some are born with propensities for thievery, some for pride, some for slander, and some for varied forms of sexual perversion outside the bounds of marriage. All are sinners, sin literally residing in their very makeup, yet Christ’s power will save and sanctify. According to God, this isn’t a “gay” issue it’s a sin issue. All mankind have turned their back on God in a multitude of ways and desperately need a Savior to fix brokenness and offer new hope.
As we can see, God’s Word is quite clear. It was clear in AD 60, and has been for 1900 years. This means the real issue is not about varying forms of human sexuality, but about obedience to God’s Word. Those who defy God will shout a host of excuses to ignore and repudiate His Word. Those who accept God will respect and honor His Word, regardless of the cost. LGBT is not a marriage issue, it’s an authority of God issue.
A friend of mine was in Costa Mesa and walked by an Irish Pub close to the beach. Hearing loud singing, he entered. Inside, the group was holding a “Beer and Hymn Sing.” Lager flowed while people supposedly worshiped their way to heaven. This house of beer and bibles provides us a sad snapshot of modern American faith.
Go back 6,000 years and look at Satan’s plan to deceive Eve and you’ll see that Satan’s assault on truth is systematized. First, Eve trusted God and practiced only His will. Next Eve trusted God but also listened to the devil. Finally, Eve ignored God, and followed only the devil. Did you catch the three steps? This model of slow degradation, what Charles Spurgeon called “The Downgrade” has been with us from the beginning and will be with us until the end. It looks like this:
#1 Bible = Practice. A community breaks away from another to establish roots based on literal, historical, grammatical interpretations of the Bible. Historically speaking, there have been dozens of groups like this, the most well-known being the Reformers, Puritans, Pilgrims, and Fundamentalists etc.
#2 Bible + Relevance = Practice. In step two, the Bible is still held as authoritative but it is used alongside popular survey results, attractive environments, sound bites, super-star guests, and an economic engine thriving on societal will-power.
#3 Relevance – Bible = Practice. In a slow way (so slow most people don’t see) the church continues to focus on societal relevance but begins to leave the Bible entirely behind. Suddenly, on websites the statement of faith gets shorter, on Sunday the sermons are briefer, people eschew doctrine, and soon all that’s left is “relevance” with no commitment to the Word of God.
Over the course of the last forty years, America has thrived in the second sector – Bible plus relevance equals practice. It has been a literal laser-light show of supposed success. The Barna Group recently reported that although American Protestantism has declined in mass, Mega-Church attendance has risen 67%. What does that tell us? Simply, that while thousands of churches slowly die, the practice of relevance continues to skyrocket! And, as the gay marriage debates prove, we’re quickly moving toward step three (Relevance minus Bible equals practice). It’s relevance on steroids. Whatever works, goes. Soon, the Bible is forgotten.
It’s relevance on steroids. Whatever works, goes. Soon, the Bible is forgotten.
To observe the consequences of such degradation simply travel to Europe and walk by a Cathedral. Churches that once housed thousands of Christians now sit dormant, selling coffee or trinkets to passers-by. Andrew Walker summed it up adequately:
“If I were writing a book titled the Art of Cultural War, this is the strategy I’d use to bring the opposing side to heel. The steps look something like this: Relativize the issue with other issues. Be uncertain about the issue. Refuse to speak publicly on the issue. Be indifferent toward the issue. Accept the issue. Affirm the issue. And eventually Require everyone participate in the issue.”
CLEAR IN THE PULPIT
Based on the Bible and Society’s hedge, the highest priority of every Church must be to protect a high view of Scripture and this is what the SBC and Nashville Statement are attempting to do. Without the Bible, there will be no church, and without the church, there will be no Christian strength with which to love or help anyone.
Clarity of biblical doctrine and diagnosis of current culture mandate the true Christian (and even more so the Pastor) be biblically concise regarding homosexuality and related sins. To the leader who proposes a “Third way” and buries his head in the sand, may I submit that in so doing you will only blind yourself? Among many others, the obvious benefits of a clear pulpit include:
- God determines your audience: As you build a church based on clear teaching of God’s Word, naturally the people who attend, members on the roll, and offerings given, will remain no matter what the world says.
- God determines your existence: If your By-laws, articles, sermons, and policies are biblical, then you can trust God with the consequences.
Don’t forget that Paul spoke often of these things. To Timothy he wrote, “In the last days difficult times will come. Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good… And indeed all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (2 Timothy 3:1-3, 12, 4:2) And, he told the Corinthians, “We are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life… For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God. (2 Corinthians 2:16-17)
In that last verse to “peddle” meant to be a cheap-salesman. Paul is literally saying, “Hard times will come, don’t manipulate the Scriptures simply to be popular!” Pastor, we are to preach the full counsels of God and trust God with the outcome. To some it will be life, to others death, but the truth remains the same. Frankly, it’s not our truth to change.
Might I also add that your theology will impact your courage – The more man-centered-free-will oriented a man’s plea, the more he must attempt to be liked. However, the more confident a man stands in the sovereign power of God, veracity of Scripture, electing hand of God’s providence, and irresistible grace of Christ, the less shaken he’ll be by the evils of earth.
CARE IN THE PEW
A clear biblical pulpit will naturally lead to a caring pew. Opponents of evangelicalism say that strong preaching is unloving or unkind not realizing that offering eternal salvation is the most loving and kind thing a church can do! We live in the era of grace. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory but all are offered the opportunity to turn from their past and cling to a Christ who forgives, regenerates, redeems, justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies.
After Paul’s command, “Preach the Word” to young Timothy, he immediately follows with, “…exhort, with great patience and instruction.” (2 Timothy 4:20) The Greek infers, “All patience” meaning that the church is to be a place of clear teaching as well as a place of enduring patience and care. Paul wasn’t delusional. He knew that his Greco-Roman counterparts with their licentious lifestyles would require years of grace, training, and assistance.
Ultimately, the church that holds to biblical truth, will conduct itself with biblical standards, meaning leaders and members will exemplify a model of honesty and integrity. This offers all lost people (heterosexual or homosexual alike) an attainable hope of righteous and joyful existence. It shows them that it’s possible to live morally. No matter how difficult life has been, there’s a way for peace, consistency, and value.
Some may remember the old 1993 film “Rudy” directed by David Anspaugh. It’s the account of Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, who harbored dreams of playing football at the University of Notre Dame despite being small, slow, and academically ineligible.
Rudy traveled to South Bend, spent two years at a Junior College, and eventually made the practice squad at Notre Dame, only to be ignored by the new head coach. At the climax of the movie, Rudy’s entire team refused to dress for the game unless the coach included Rudy. He eventually let him play one set of downs. The story of Rudy lives in Notre Dame lore.
People are inspired by the underdog. Always have been, always will be.
We learn a valuable lesson from the story of Rudy and others like it. Namely, that people are inspired by the underdog. They always have been, they always will be. And, the reality of Christianity is that all men and women are underdogs in the quest for eternal life. We are lost rebels, broken vessels, unable to reach heaven, with no hope of our own. But Christ stepped in to pay the price, give heaven, and even make us useful upon earth.
Although sin may satisfy for a moment, sinners aren’t truly joyful. Let’s get honest. Sexually transmitted diseases run rampant, multiple partners leave corrupted memories and jealousy, custody battles ensue, and lifetimes are abbreviated. Ultimately, transgenderism is the very root of self-dissatisfaction. Thus, when people come to church and meet a Rudy, an underdog that Jesus saved to the varsity squad, they find hope. A man or woman who was once lost and ignored now flourishing. A man or woman once stuck in the same sin they’re in, now confident and obedient. A man or woman who was once mired in personal agony, now leading a ministry, guiding a class, shouting in worship, or kneeling in prayer. People find hope in that. A life to be observed. An example to be followed. 500 years ago William Gurnall penned:
Why does it matter though the church be like Jonah in the whale’s belly, swallowed up out of view by the fury of men? Do you not remember that the whale had no power to digest the prophet? Do not be too quick to bury the church before she is dead. Be patient while Christ tries His skill before you give it over. By your prayers, bring Christ to her grave to speak a resurrection word. The saints of old exhibited admirable faith in circumstances, which were just as dire. Indeed, we dishonor the Word of God if, when the church’s power is at its lowest ebb, we do not take the single bond of His promise as a guarantee of its deliverance.
When people tell me that homosexuality or gender confusion are inescapable I listen patiently. I listen, but I do not agree. I do not agree because I’ve witnessed what the power of God’s Word can do in the life of my formerly homosexual friends – Two of which are now happily married to a wife, with children, and in ministry – The power of Christ overcomes any sin. This means the pulpit must stay bold, the Christian must stay prayerful, and both must share the truth in love. As we hold to doctrine and act with compassion, Jesus will continue to build His true church.