Theses for a Colloquium

I wish there would be a global conference of Christians who take seriously the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures – those who believe that, despite the distinctive imprint of the various human authors, the Scriptures do not merely contain the word of God, they are the word of God.

I wish that such a conference would consider propositions and questions set out below in relation to the matter of the blessing – or not – by the Church, in the name of God, of certain same-sex relationships.

I wish that each delegate would commit to allowing their prior position on these matters to be challenged and tested. That is, they would wish their position to emerge as the consensus only if testing proves that it deserves that place. They would not attend with an iron determination that the conference must affirm their view, but with trust in God that their view would indeed be affirmed if it is God’s own view.

Many potential participants might reject the idea, saying “What weight could the decision of such a conference have, however global its membership, over against the consensus of 1900 years of Christian orthodoxy and – before that, 1500 years of Hebrew orthodoxy?” There are two strong answers to that question. The first is, that the conference might well reaffirm the historic position, but much more persuasively than can a statement such as the recent “Nashville Statement” which was produced by a limited cross-section of Christian leaders. And the second is, this is a live issue in a way that it never has been in the history of the Church. Has our God included in His word guidelines that the Church has never before noticed because it never before needed to, and which may significantly modify the way we think and act henceforth?

In the paragraphs that follow, I have arranged the propositions and questions into what seems to be a logical order for their discussion, but others might like to suggest a better sequence.

God’s Design, our Benchmark

  1. The word of God reveals a design for humankind.
  2. This design is the benchmark against which normality and departure from normality must be measured.

Humankind’s Common Predicament

  1. The fall of humankind into sin is a reality, not a myth created to explain evil and adversity that we now “know” (sic) arise simply from the evolutionary history of humankind.
  2. Since the fall, every person’s life is discordant in greater or lesser degree with God’s original design.
  3. The fall occurred in the ethical domain, but its consequences affected the physical and psychological domains as well.
  4. As sinners, each of us in our natural self is separated from fellowship with God in this life, and certain to experience the wrath of God against sin in the final judgment.
  5. As inhabitants of a fallen world, every person also suffers in greater or lesser degree from physical and psychological weaknesses and infirmities.

Implications for Christian Thought

  1. When a social situation confronts us that seems to require correction, we must analyze the problem by the light of the Word of God, not taking as our default position that all such problems are explicable in terms of evolution.
  2. Likewise, we must seek solutions by the light of the Word of God.
  3. We must be aware that evidence – even ostensibly scientific evidence – and opinions put forward from secular quarters are subject to the ethical bias of their proponents and are to be accepted only if they pass Christian scrutiny.

God’s Redemptive Plan

  1. God has a redemptive plan for the ages, “…a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him [Christ – God’s anointed one; the Messiah], things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:10, ESV)
  2. The centuries between the Lord’s call to Abraham and the ministry of Jesus were a time of preparation in which God shaped a nation to which he could send the Messiah, and from which the Messiah could draw his first disciples.
  3. The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, were historical events.
  4. Those events introduced the present era, one which the New Testament calls “the end (τέλη / συντελείᾳ) of the ages” (1 Corinthians 10:11; Hebrews 9:26).
  5. The work that Christ did has enabled the fulfilment in the present age of important parts of God’s plan.
    • By the justifying incorporation of believers into Christ, the rupture between God and believers is healed.
    • The gift of the indwelling Holy Spirit empowers believers for holiness and service.
  6. The prayer and practical service of believers is to be directed primarily to two ends:
    • The hallowing of the Name of God by the testimony and actions of believers.
    • The building of his kingdom by the discipling of nations.
  7. In this present era, the kingdom is “now” but “not yet”. It is:
    • present (Luke 17:21)
    • and growing (Matthew 13:31-33)
    • but will not be perfectly realized until the coming of the new heavens and earth.(1 Corinthians 15:50)

Don’t Confuse Evidence and Cause  (Romans 1)

  1. Romans 1 teaches that the behavior that draws down God’s wrath upon a society is the people’s wilful turning from the worship of their Creator to the worship of other “gods”.
    • The explosion in a society of sexual practices that deviate from God’s design is an evidence of God’s wrath, not its cause.
    • The many other sins that Paul mentions in Romans 1:28-31 are equally part of the evidence.
    • If we seem to see an explosion of such sin in the post-Christian world, we must blame the professors and popularizers of atheism, existentialism, and postmodernism, who have tempted the populace away from reverence for God. Abortions and sexual licence are symptoms, not the cause.
    • Likewise, the existence of homosexual relationships is, biblically speaking, a symptom, not a cause.
  2. Paul’s purpose in Romans 1 was not to differentiate between sinners as to blameworthiness but to include all. As John Calvin observed in his comments on Romans 1, “…though every vice … did not appear in each individual, yet all were guilty of some vices, so that everyone might separately be accused of manifest depravity.

Old and New Testament Prohibitions Allow no Exceptions

  1. The Law of Moses and the New Testament alike contain clear prohibitions against sexual intercourse between males.
    • Some scholars have tried to interpret the prohibitions as forbidding only relationships that are commercial, coercive, inter-generational, or promiscuous. Their arguments were worth considering, but in the end do not stand up to rigorous scrutiny. (See, e.g., the overview provided by Ian Paul.)
    • Arguments that loving, faithful same-sex relationships were unknown to the Biblical writers and therefore not considered in the prohibitory texts also fail. (See, e.g., the discussion by John Pike.)

Some Sins are “Abominations”

  1. The Old Testament scriptures identify some sins as “abominations” {to’evah: תּוֹעֵבָ}. They are:
    • any of the practices forbidden in Leviticus 18 (see Leviticus 18:26 & 30) and/or in Deuteronomy 18:
      • adultery (see also Ezekiel 22:11)
      • homosexual coitus
      • incest
      • bestiality
      • child sacrifice (see also Deuteronomy 12:31 & Jeremiah 32:35)
      • The “dark arts”
    • idolatry (Deuteronomy 32:16; Isaiah 44:19)
    • cross-dressing (Deuteronomy 22:5)
    • The sins mentioned in Proverbs 6:16-19:
      • arrogance (see also Proverbs 16:5)
      • falsehood (see also Proverbs 12:22)
      • murder
      • wicked scheming
      • eager participation in evil
      • corruption in judicial proceedings (see also Proverbs 17:15)
      • stirring discord
    • crooked business dealings (Proverbs 11:1 & 20:10)
    • deviousness (Proverbs 11:20)
  2. There are many parallels between those “abominations” and the sins Paul cites in Romans 1:
    • homosexual coitus (Romans 1:26-27)
    • stirring discord (malice, strife & gossip: Romans 1:29)
    • murder (Romans 1:29)
    • falsehood (deceit: Romans 1:29)
    • false witness (slander: Romans 1:30)
    • arrogance (insolent, haughty, boastful: Romans 1:30)
    • eager participation in evil (inventors of evil: Romans 1:30)
    • wicked scheming (heartless, ruthless: Romans 1:31)
  3. There are also evident parallels between the “abominations” and the sins the Paul lists in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, that will exclude people from the kingdom of God: sexual immorality, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, theft, greed, reviling, and swindling.
  4. It is a mistake, therefore, to select just a purple subset of the “abominable” sins and make them especially prominent in preaching about sin.
  5. It is a mistake to treat others of the “abominable” sins as somehow more respectable.

Don’t Anthropomorphize when Interpreting to’evah (תּוֹעֵבָ)

  1. When expounding what to’evah means in the mind of God, we must not anthropomorphize.
    • While many readers may feel a churning in their stomach at the thought of some of those “abominations”, our unchanging God does not respond viscerally.
    • The Holy Spirit uses to’evah analogically so we mortals can get a sense of the seriousness of certain actions in God’s eyes, not so we can project our human sense of the word back onto God.
    • The divine response is the measured response of a perfect judge. Particular sins are not abominations because they upset the divine digestive tract, but because they are heinous when tested against a divine standard.
  2. When asking why our God declares something a to’evah, we should seek a reason that makes sense in all the contexts where the scriptures use the expression.
    • Even if the immediate reason why adultery is a to’evah differs from the immediate reason why crooked business dealings are also such, there is necessarily a deeper reason that is common to both. What is the offence that is common to both adultery and dishonesty? That is the question we should ask.
    • It is not sufficient to find the commonality in the sins’ discord with the character of God. That is true of any sin, not just those that are described as abominations.
  3. The common reason cannot lie in the physical attributes of the action.
    • The physical attributes of the action of adultery are identical to those of sexual intercourse between a married couple. It is not those attributes, therefore, that make adultery abominable – it is some other aspect of the action.
    • Note, too, from Galatians 4, that Ishmael was born “according to the flesh” but Isaac was born “according to the Spirit” even though the physical act of sexual intercourse (viewed just as an act, apart from context) was the same in both cases.
  4. The meaning that best encompasses all the contexts where “abomination” is used is something like this:
    An abomination is any action that works vigorously to destroy or prevent the re-establishment of God’s design on earth.

    • All sins counter God’s design in some degree, but some are especially destructive.
    • When the partners in a marriage are faithful to each other, the relationship becomes a sanctuary that is like the kingdom of God, protecting husband, wife, and any children. Adultery tears down the sanctuary.
    • The sanctuary that is provided by a godly marriage and family is the prototype of the sanctuary that should envelope all in a godly society.
    • Each of the abominations grievously attacks either the prototype sanctuary or the larger one, or both.
    • Of particular relevance to the present concern is this – when a society views same-sex coitus as mainstream, and even something to be pursued by partners in parallel with their heterosexual marriage, that, too, devalues and weakens the sanctuary that marriage should be.

A New View of Those in Same-Sex Relationships

  1. Most who are in same-sex relationships testify that their same-sex attraction was not wilfully chosen and was unwelcome when first recognized.
  2. This kind of testimony is common both to those who assert faith in Christ and those who don’t.
  3. A correct understanding of Romans 1 allows us to accept those testimonies, in that we can see same-sex attraction as collateral damage from the Fall, not a way of life chosen as a deliberate statement of rebellion against God.
  4. The Church has been wrong to treat same-sex relationships as though they were in a different and worse category than other behaviour that is listed in Romans 1:18-32.
  5. This failure of interpretation has led to a significant failure of pastoral and congregational care for those who are same-sex attracted.
  6. The Church’s unbalanced treatment of the same-sex-attracted as worse sinners than others has given tacit encouragement to those who would mock, violently attack or even kill such people.

God has Used the World to Rebuke the Church for its Failing

  1. Many pastors now acknowledge that such past attitudes and practices were wrong, and are seeking to amend the care they give.
  2. Many have not come to this place by, in the first instance, careful study of the Word of God but because of the ruckus being made in the streets about the social injustices experienced by same-sex attracted people.
  3. That is, many pastors’ Bible study prior to the ruckus was superficial and careless, and the ruckus has forced them to return to the Scriptures and take more care about it.
  4. There is a principle of God’s shepherding of the Church to be seen here: though the Scriptures are in themselves sufficient for doctrine, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, God can and will use external means to correct us when we are using the Scriptures insufficiently, as he used an ass to rebuke Balaam.
  5. Therefore, if a church now gives same-sex attracted people and people in same-sex relationships the same warm welcome and appropriate counsel that they would give anyone else who came in, that church is following the Spirit of Christ, not the spirit of the age.

What if?

  1. As God has used the world to correct our pastoral attitude to same-sex attracted people, we should search deeply and ask whether there are further lessons he would have us learn, too.
  2. Any such lessons taken up would not be on the false basis that the Old and New Testament writers had a (supposedly) primitive view of God which we have now transcended, but by study and application of the inspired word of God.
  3. With the new visibility in the world of people in same-sex relationships, we see many such who are using their talents to strengthen society, not to promote licence.
  4. If an abomination is something that works to destroy or prevent the re-establishment of God’s design on earth, might God allow the Church to change its stance toward anyone in a same-sex relationship who has ordered their life in every other way apart from their sexual relationship to support the traditional understanding of God’s kingdom and build it according to God’s design? [This question should not be argued here, but debated more fully later.]
  5. Conversely, should the Church refuse to pronounce God’s blessing on a heterosexual union if the couple concerned shows no plausible commitment to using their union to support and strengthen the Kingdom? [This question, like the previous, is raised here to provoke thought, not for immediate debate.]
  6. Pronouncing God’s blessing (if ever possible) on a union other than one between a man and a woman must never to be understood as consecrating holy matrimony, which term should be reserved by the Church for the union between one man and one woman.
  7. As stated earlier, the prohibitions in the law of Moses and in the New Testament against same-sex coitus allowed no exceptions. Can we affirm that absoluteness as essential then, but able to be softened now?
    • When the Lord gave Moses the law, the people of Israel were a tiny minority, themselves still semi-pagan, in a world rife with pagan depravity. When the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the New Testament, the Church was likewise a tiny minority within Roman and Greek culture.
    • Did God allow no exceptions then because to do so would too greatly have endangered the young Hebrew community, and later the nascent Christian Church? And has the Church now grown to a place of sufficient strength that God’s grace can be formally recognized toward some (but not all) in same-sex relationships, a grace that does not require the relationship to be exchanged for celibacy? [This question to be debated later if, after considering the other issues raised below, it is decided that the Scriptures might conceivably answer such a question “Yes”.]
  8. Even if a softening is arrived at, the love and justice of God is not to be impugned in regard to suffering previously experienced by same-sex-attracted people. The extension of Christ’s dominion has been a work in process since the day of Christ’s ascension. Christ is working through human agents – his Church – and not everything could be achieved at once.
  9. Nor, if a softening is arrived at, would that mean that the suffering was all for nothing of those many same-sex-attracted people who have lived celibately and sought to honour God amidst their struggles.
    • Their struggle was needful because it was faithful to the understanding taught by the Church’s Scripture-respectful scholars, both Catholic and Protestant, and as such it was the will of God for them through that time.
    • Only if a significant majority of today’s generation of similarly Scripture-respectful scholars prayerfully and discerningly agrees together in the kind of colloquium suggested in this paper, could we have confidence that it is the revealed will of God that the time has come to soften the prohibition against same-sex unions.
    • Until (if ever) such a change comes, pastors and church people should continue to counsel celibacy and give open, unashamed, and loving support to those in the congregation who are same-sex-attracted.

Sola Scriptura

  1. To quote the Westminster Confession of Faith (I:VI), “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture”. (Cf. Article VI of the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles: “… is… read therein, [or] may be proved thereby.”) If the Anglican and Westminster Divines were right, a change such as the one mooted in this paper must pass the test of “good and necessary consequence”.
  2. It may be argued that the counsel of God concerning the main question raised in this paper is already expressly set down in Scripture where Paul says, “… neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). However, we have reached a point where the name of God is being blasphemed among unbelievers because of the Church’s attitude to same-sex unions. It seems incongruous that this issue should be allowed to hide from the world’s eyes the God whose nature (in the words of the Book of Common Prayer’s prayer of humble access) is “always to show mercy”. Because of this incongruity, should we not look to see whether good and necessary consequence after all shows that the maintaining the no-exceptions application of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and similar passages in this later stage of the Christian era is wrong?
  3. The Westminster divines’ “good and necessary consequence” may have intended only that which can be proved syllogistically. It may be that the points that follow in this paper can be arranged into a chain of syllogisms, but – if not – the idea that a syllogistic chain is necessary is not supported by Scripture, and we should remember and apply to the Westminster divines what their Confession itself asserts (XXXI:IV): “All synods or councils, since the apostles’ times, whether general or particular, may err; and many have erred. Therefore they are not to be made the rule of faith, or practice; but to be used as a help in both”.
    • Example: The Scriptures in the Book of Proverbs give us two express but wittingly contradictory instructions about how to proceed when in dialogue with a fool. Proverbs26:4-5,Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.“ It would be impossible to program a set of rules into an android (robot) so that the android could apply that advice, and so it is not possible, or God’s intention, to program a set of rules into us. God intends us to bring a wider understanding to many situations than that which comes from a syllogism.
    • Many expositors have pointed out that the language used to describe the new heavens and earth contains obvious parallels to the descriptions of the pre-Fall Garden, so we are to understand that the τελος (telos) is the restoration, in even greater glory, of the Garden.
    • Therefore, as the Kingdom grows in this present “now but not yet” era, we should expect to see a restoration, at least partially, of Edenic conditions.
    • In the Garden, we see Adam relating as a mature adult to God, when the Lord brings to him the animals to see what he would name them – i.e., how he would classify them.
    • This therefore should provide the template and expectation for how we relate to God’s world and God’s Word, as thinking, reflecting adults and not as those who need a pedagogue.
    • Some may wish to limit the Genesis example to humankind in its endeavours in the fields of the physical sciences, but why? Why not understand that the Lord invites and expects us also to be adults in theology, the Queen of the sciences, and in applied theology? The next point (immediately below) supports that this is indeed God’s expectation.
  4. The Lord Jesus Christ several times rebuked Jews of his day for misapplying the letter of the law because, to summarise the thrust of his rebukes, they had failed to take into account the character of the God who had issued the laws. Moreover, he expected their Bible study conclusions to be informed and modified by lessons learned from outside the Scriptures. If the Lord so rebuked people who were still under the pedagogy of the law, shouldn’t we who know the grace of Christ be ten times as careful not to repeat their error?
    • Mark 3:4-5 And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
      • Here, Jesus shows us that there is a greater principle that must be taken into account when considering how to apply a God-given law such as the Sabbath law that covers a particular domain of life. Applying the specific law without regard to the greater principle leads to error.
    • Luke 6:2-5 But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath?” And Jesus answered them, “Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and took and ate the bread of the Presence, which is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and also gave it to those with him?” And he said to them, “The Son of Man is lord of the Sabbath.”
      • The greater principle is found by consideration of the character of God the Word, who gave the law.
    • John 7:23-24 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
      • The higher principle, again: “… judge with right judgment. “
    • Luke 13:15-16 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?”
      • Notice that the Lord expected the man to let his instinctual but volitional real-world behaviour test and moderate his understanding of the law. (Not the law itself, but his understanding and application of the law)
    • Mark 7:18-19 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)
      • The point to take, for the moment, from this passage in Mark 7, is that Jesus taught even those living under the law of Moses that they were expected to engage their faculty of reason and their understanding of human processes when interpreting the law. And if they were so obligated, how much more we!
      • Of course, we will need to debate whether there is any kind of same-sex union that is not inherently included in the things that Jesus then lists that defile a person: “… evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.
      • A first-century Jew, reading the law, might have said, “It’s a no-brainer. Eating an unclean food defies a man,” but what Jesus says is, in effect, “You’re right! That’s exactly the conclusion someone whose brain is not engaged will come to – but the conclusion is wrong.”
      • A twenty-first-century Christian, reading the Bible, might say, “It’s a No-brainer. Every form of same-sex union is forbidden by God,” but might the Son of God say to us, “You’re right! That’s exactly the conclusion someone whose brain is not engaged will come to – but the conclusion is wrong.“? We are under obligation to engage our brains and our knowledge of human processes and find out.
  5. Regardless of the points raised just above for discussion, the popular slogan, “Love and justice” should be deprecated because it is too easily used to promote humanistic notions of justice rather than those that pass the test of the Word of God. If a slogan is needed, “Love and light” is to be preferred.

Scripture, Reason, and Tradition

  1. Some Christians hold that the word of God for us is found through the combined means of scripture, reason, and tradition.
  2. Tradition is understood in two ways: (i) Apostolic teaching which was delivered orally during their ministry but which has been included comprehensively and finally in the written scriptures. (ii) Apostolic teaching that was not committed to the scriptures but has nevertheless been carried down to us by the Church. While I prefer the first understanding, I don’t believe that the difference has a bearing on the matters raised in this paper, so no further discussion or declaration is necessary here.
  3. Reason has been understood by some as having such autonomy that it stands alongside Scripture in authority and is able to trump Scripture where the scientific evidence is sufficient. Such a view doesn’t give sufficient weight to the ethical bias brought into all human reasoning by the Fall, or to the testimony that Scripture itself gives to its divine authorship and authority.
  4. Defenders of sola scriptura have therefore limited the place of reason essentially to its role in exegesis, where, with the aid of archaeological studies and studies of cognate languages and neighbouring societies, reason helps us to understand the scriptures in their original languages and social contexts, and to compare one scripture with another and so reach a concordant understanding of the whole that takes into account the sweep of salvation history, and also enables us to accurately understand and apply particular texts.
  5. However, the gospel excerpts quoted above show that our Lord, who fully knew the risks that sin poses to our reasoning, nevertheless expects us to apply to our exegesis insights gained from inspection of the outside world, and from introspection of our own behaviour and feelings.

Some Examples of Reasoned Change of the Application of Scripture

  1. Until about the middle of the 20th century, many churches, Protestant as well as Catholic, forbade or discouraged the use of birth control, believing that to use birth control was to disobey the command to be fruitful and multiply. Many Bible-believing churches are now, however, comfortable with birth control, believing that the command to fill the earth has been sufficiently fulfilled.
  2. The command that women should have their heads covered in worship is also largely disregarded now, seemingly because the cultural background that made the command meaningful and appropriate in the 1st century has vanished and to us it seems an oddity.
    • Even many churches with a strongly complementarian doctrine of the relationship between male and female believe that a person’s commitment to it is adequately demonstrated in other ways, and don’t require head-coverings for their women.
  3. Many Bible-believing churches also lower the lofty standard set by Jesus and will pronounce God’s blessing on the remarriage of a divorced person if convinced that the divorced person has confessed and repented of whatever sin led to the divorce.
    • The churches have not declared that divorce is not a sin that God hates, but that is not the point here. The point is that, manifestly, churches have allowed divorcees to remarry even though the surface meaning of the words of Jesus seems to forbid it.
    • In the matter of remarriage of the divorced, the churches seem to have decided that scriptures such as, “… the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust…” (Psalm 104:13-14), give us permission to extend greater leniency than does the surface reading of the words of Jesus. That is, the church has brought its knowledge of the revealed character of God to bear when deciding how to apply the scripture.
  4. These are less controversial changes of interpretation and application than the one mooted in this paper. The blessing of a same-sex union would indeed be a momentous change. Nevertheless, they do provide evidence that many in Bible-believing churches – including pastors and teachers – believe that God gives us some permission to modify what for centuries was the uncontested view of his will on certain matters.

Where to?

  1. The present Western concern for rights and respect for all could only have arisen in a society that has already been deeply changed by the influence of Christianity. In the Roman world into which the gospel was launched, personhood was a gift given by the state, and given to only a few. Most people, even those who were not slaves, were non-persons to whom no dignity was accorded, and whose feelings were considered unimportant. It took Christianity to change that, and the Church should acknowledge current activism as its somewhat misguided child, not a bitter enemy.
  2. Those who experience same-sex attraction are in a situation not of their own making.
  3. It is consonant with the merciful character of God who is Light, and the present resilience of the Church as a light in the world, that God should permit and bless a same-sex union between partners who have credibly declared their faith in the Son of God and credibly declared their intention to use their life together to support and further the growth of the kingdom of heaven as it  is revealed in Scripture and not as redesigned by man.
  4. Therefore, the Church should consider making a declaration of the kind suggested below.
  5. Such a declaration will not open a “slippery slope” to the legitimation of other actions. If the Church adopts a declaration of the kind below, it will be the product of a comprehensive and prayerful colloquium that does not give congregations the licence to make any other changes except by a similar painstaking process.

Declaration Concerning the Blessing of Sexual Unions

1) The Church will not pronounce God’s blessing on any union, heterosexual or same-sex, where the couple concerned have not shown credible evidence that they intend to order their life together to support and further God’s righteous kingdom.

2) ‎ Any couple seeking God’s blessing over their union must declare their intention to live faithfully together, forsaking all others, until death separates them.

3) The Church will pronounce God’s blessing on a same-sex union where the couple concerned provides the credible evidence and declaration specified in Articles 1 and 2, but will not apply the terms “marriage” or “matrimony” to such a union, regardless of the terminology that the civil authorities choose to use.

4) This blessing will be pronounced because we believe that it exists in reality, as the mind of God toward that union.

5) ‎The Church will pronounce God’s blessing on a heterosexual union where the couple concerned provide the evidence and declaration specified in Articles 1 and 2, and will term such a union a marriage, and holy matrimony.

6) ‎The distinction of terms does not imply a judgment as to the relative excellence or dignity of the persons involved in the two kinds of union, but simply reserves the terms “marriage” and “matrimony” for the kind of union that is ordinarily capable of fulfilling that part of God’s kingdom purpose which has to do with the procreation of children.

Guidelines for Making Comments

If posting a comment on this proposal, please follow these guidelines:

  • Feel free to make comments about the proposal in general but not in its specific detail.
  • Also feel free to point out scriptures I have omitted to address, but you think should have been discussed.
  • Please do not attempt here to rebut my handling of particular scriptures. Neither you nor I, sitting in isolation at our desks or even in a small gathering of other scholars, are competent to resolve this issue; only a major colloquium would have the competency as scholars and the steel as men and women of God to challenge entrenched ways of thinking and perhaps help us to see things in a new light. Let any needful rebuttal happen there.
    • If you do nevertheless submit such a comment, I will delete it and replace it with the text of that third point just above.

Soli Deo Gloria

Image acknowledgement: By Elizabeth Ann Colette (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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Rebut the ‘Basket’? Not so Fast!

Conservatives in a “Basket of Deplorables”?

Hillary Clinton charged that many of Donald Trump’s supporters belong to a “basket of deplorables” because of (among other possibilities) their “homophobic” views. Many contemporary, creedally orthodox churches are likely to say, in response, “Don’t include us in that basket. If any LGBT+ person comes into our congregation, they will find that clergy and congregational members will welcome them just as they are and not make it a project to change their orientation.”

Most would add a rider something like this, “We will continue to hold that only heterosexual relationships are ordained by God, and the only human partnership that can rightly be termed a marriage is a partnership between a biological man and a biological woman. But if you don’t agree with us on those points, that won’t stop us receiving you as someone who has all the dignity of one who is created in the image of God. We won’t make you feel like dirt.”

So far, contemporary orthodox churches, so good. God’s church must derive its understanding of right and wrong from God’s word. The U.S Supreme Court and Social Justice Warriors (so called) want the world instead to derive its ethics from a different source, namely, whatever seems right to each individual. Every person supposedly has the right not to be questioned or challenged on their life choices. The Church is right to withstand this idea.

However, I don’t think we can escape the “deplorable” label – in God’s eyes, I mean, not Hillary Clinton’s – as easily as that.

In a Redeemer Report article ( accessed 2016/12/12, emphasis mine), Tim Keller wrote,

“Vines and Wilson relate stories of people who were sure that the Bible condemned homosexuality. However, they were brought to a change of mind through getting to know gay people personally. It is certainly important for Christians who are not gay to hear the hearts and stories of people who are attracted to the same sex.

And when I see people discarding their older beliefs that homosexuality is sinful after engaging with loving, wise, gay people, I’m inclined to agree that those earlier views were likely defective. In fact, they must have been essentially a form of bigotry. They could not have been based on theological or ethical principles, or on an understanding of historical biblical teaching. They must have been grounded instead on a stereotype of gay people as worse sinners than others (which is itself a shallow theology of sin.) So I say good riddance to bigotry.”

Conservative Culpability

I hope that every conservative pastor and believer can respond to that “good riddance” with a resounding cheer of support. Nevertheless, Keller’s congratulatory cry doesn’t touch on the question of who was chiefly responsible for that bigotry which we must now discard. To that question I would answer, “In a large measure, conservative pastors of past generations and many still of our own generation.”

How many preachers have expounded Romans 1:18-32 as though Paul’s purpose was to give us a way of ranking sins from the least to the greatest, with homosexuality the worst of all? How many have failed to take from the passage the point that Calvin with his incisive insight makes in his comment on verse 28 (emphasis mine),

“…though every vice, as it has been said, did not appear in each individual, yet all were guilty of some vices, so that everyone might separately be accused of manifest depravity.”

How many preachers have made a similar mistake in their handling of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and singled out homosexuality as somehow pre-eminent in Paul’s catalogue of mortal sins, when in fact the unrighteous acts that Paul denounced in the preceding verses and that provoked his warning in verses 9 and 10 are acts of fraud and litigiousness – i.e., acts of robbery and greed. When preachers single out homosexuality for “trumpet blast” denunciation and are timid in their warnings against sins that the inspired Apostle rates equally vile, is it any wonder that congregations and society have been imbued with the idea that homosexuals are the vilest of the vile, and should be treated accordingly?

How many preachers have taken it for granted that the Hebrew word to`evah, translated “abomination” means something that causes a reaction of stomach-churning revulsion, and have projected that meaning into the scriptures and onto God? How many have therefore roared the word in their diatribes against homosexuality, building and confirming prejudice in their congregation? How many have failed to notice – or have glossed over the fact – that God uses the same word to describe adultery, graven images, and false balances? Those ideas don’t usually make our stomachs churn, and – anyway – God doesn’t have a stomach to be churned. Correct exposition, I contend, should use a definition that makes sense in all the contexts in which the word is used.

A recent docudrama on Australian television brought to light that in Sydney “in the 1980s and 1990s…There were 80 murders, thousands of assaults and 30 unsolved cases— the victims, all young homosexual men.” (Link accessed 2016/12/12).

Many of the murders were glibly written off as suicides and never properly investigated, police and public content with that outcome because, to their prejudiced minds, gay lives were of no consequence and the victims deserved their fate. I have no doubt that similar patterns – certainly assaults, and sometimes murders – could be found in many of the Christian world’s cities and towns.

My charge is that many “good” conservative pastors over many decades, in their blinkered and inept handling of what the Bible has to say about homosexual activity, have played a part in creating a milieu of bigotry and hostility whose outcome was and is such violence. We, the conservative Church and especially its pastors, have blood on our hands, even if, while we were mishandling teaching in regard to homosexuality, we were faithfully preaching, against vigilante action – “’Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Because of what was trumpeted and what was omitted in the teaching, it was like passing a live grenade to a toddler and feebly urging, “Don’t pull the pin.”

I don’t think it will be good enough in the eyes of God to say to LGBT+ people, “That was then. We’re sorry about it, but we’re different now. Come to church and see – we’ll put our arm around you!” No, I think that conservative churches, while standing firm in their commitment to the Scriptural revelation, need to come to a more profound and appalled repentance at the evil they have done. Only then will their outreach to LGBT+ people be truthful and compelling.

I will have more to say on that theme in my next blog post.

Trevor Morrison, 13 December 2016

My thinks to Clay Jones for permission to use his cartoon in this post. Please visit his website at https://claytoonz.com/ 

Picture of a castaway on a beach

A Non-Slippery Non-Slope

Late in “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” Kevin DeYoung makes an observation which deserves to be placed on the study wall of everyone who is involved with this debate. He writes, “Nothing in the Bible encourages us to give sex the exalted status it has in our culture, as if finding our purpose, our identity, and our fulfillment all rest on what we can or cannot do with our private parts. Jesus is the fullest example of what it means to be human, and he never had sex” (DeYoung, 2015, p. 119).

I agree with that statement, but that does not stop me disagreeing with some of the other things that DeYoung says in the book. In this post, I will discuss more of those disagreements.

DeYoung says, “It would be strange for the prohibition against homosexual practice to be set aside when the rest of the [Old Testament] sexual ethic is not” (p. 48) . However, whether it is “strange” or not depends on one’s view of the fundamental reason for the ethic that God enjoins upon us. DeYoung believes that any sexual connection that is contrary to God’s original design for humankind is forever wrong and forbidden. I argue instead that the reason for all of God’s ethical commands post-Fall is to safeguard the presence and growth among us of the Kingdom of Heaven. An adulterous or incestuous or bestial relationship harms that objective just as much now as it would have done in the days of Moses, but I would argue that a faithful same-sex relationship does not. By my argument, there is a difference in kind between a faithful same-sex relationship and the other sexual connections that were forbidden in the Law, so it is not in principle strange if it should turn out to be the will of God that the Church should now treat the one kind differently to the others.

I agree with DeYoung that the New Testament writers would not have envisaged such a change, but – as I have written before – I believe we need to think through this controversy in the knowledge that we are on a different place in the arc of redemptive history than they were. We are not in a different place in the modernist sense that asserts that the growth of scientific knowledge compels us to leave behind some of the so-called primitive and superstitious ideas of the Biblical writers, but we are in a different place because the gospel itself has had a profound impact on the world, so a change of Church practice may now be possible that would have been dangerous earlier in the Christian age.

Understandably, DeYoung and other conservative writers believe that changing the Church’s standards with regard to faithful same-sex relationships would be the first step on a slippery slope. This concern can be seen for instance when DeYoung writes, “If the “is-ness” of personal experience and desire determines the “ought-ness” of embracing these desires and acting upon them, there is no logical reason why other sexual “orientations” (say, toward children, or animals, or promiscuity, or bisexuality, or multiple partners) should be stigmatized” (p. 111).

In that sentence, DeYoung implicitly sets two positions against each other, even though he mentions only the second of them. The first position is his own, that the entire sexual ethic of the Law of Moses is forever unchangeable because it is founded in God’s pre-Fall design for humankind, and the second position is one that argues from the “is-ness” of personal desire to entitlement to act upon it.

I have already argued above that DeYoung’s own position is wrong, and I would argue that the second position is also wrong. Yes, if the Church were to change its stance toward faithful same-sex relationships, it would be compassionately motivated by the “is-ness” of the anguish of those who feel unable to enter a successful heterosexual relationship, but it would have assessed that move against the whole counsel of Scripture and the need to advance the Kingdom of God and protect those who find shelter in it. That assessment would give the Church every logical reason to continue prohibiting its members acting upon the other “orientations” in DeYoung’s list. There is therefore no slope and nothing to slip on.

DeYoung shows the same error of thinking elsewhere. He says, “It’s strange that some Christians would treat homosexual activity as an imperfect but allowable choice or simply less than God’s best when we would never speak so dismissively about the sin of ethnic prejudice, economic exploitation, or violence against women” (p. 101). The difference, of course, is that those other acts damage the Kingdom and are indeed sins, but a faithful same-sex relationship, far from harming the Kingdom, can contribute to its support and extension and as such should not be categorised as a sin.

DeYoung also challenges the view that it is wrong to “…ask [homosexuals] without the gift of celibacy to live a life God has not called them to… Celibacy… must be a choice” (p. 113). His attempted rebuttal includes this: “If chastity is too much to ask of the person with same-sex sexual desires, then it is too much to ask of the person with heterosexual desires. What about the single Christian woman who never finds a husband? Or the godly man whose wife is paralyzed at thirty years old, making sexual intimacy an impossibility? Did these believers choose the gift of celibacy?” (p. 114) My reply would be, “No, they did not, and it is not in the Church’s power to lift that exigency from them, but it is in the Church’s power to do so for gay people who are able to find a life partner. It would be a strange kind of pastoral care that said, “We can’t bring this blessing to everyone, so we won’t bring it to any”!

Two other planks of DeYoung’s attempted rebuttal are equally rotten. (1) He says that the revisionist argument (as he calls it) depends on the assumption that “homosexual desires cannot change” (p. 113). In fact, it does not. It depends only on the assumption that at least some of those who experience homosexual desires will never experience a change in the direction of heterosexuality. DeYoung is able to provide an instance of someone whose desires did change to heterosexuality (and, indeed, I know of others), and DeYoung uses that as though it is proof that all can change and no other hope need be provided. His reasoning is not only logically invalid, it chooses to disregard the anguished testimonies of the many Christian believers who have struggled and prayed for change and have found that God did not grant it to them.

(2) He also asserts that the revisionist case “… overstates the sexual freedom found in marriage… Every married man I know still wrestles with some measure of not-to-be-fulfilled sexual desire” (p. 114). Well, of course—me, too! And I don’t believe anyone who supports the “revisionist” case imagines that allowing same-sex relationships will somehow deliver same-sex couples into a utopia that heterosexual couples have not been able to achieve. Moreover, DeYoung’s words imply that a homosexually-oriented person with 0% of their sexual desires fulfilled should be able to take solace in the fact that their heterosexual friends are not achieving 100% satisfaction. This second point of DeYoung’s attempted rebuttal is altogether mistaken and irrelevant.

His final plank of rebuttal concerns the meaning of Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7, leading to the conclusion that it’s unthinkable that Paul … would now be suggesting that people with strong homosexual desires should be able to satisfy those desires if sexual purity seems too onerous” (p. 115). I’m sure DeYoung is right about Paul, but my contention is that the Church has the authority under the Word of God to now accept faithful same-sex relationships in a way that Paul could not.

At the start of this post I highlighted an excellent observation that DeYoung makes, “Nothing in the Bible encourages us to give sex the exalted status it has in our culture”. However, the debate about the acceptance or not of same-sex relationships ignores a vital element if it focuses solely on the sexual aspect of such relationships. The missed element is the longing for a relationship with another human being who knows you almost totally and loves and accepts you. When such a relationship is found—as I found with my wife—sexual desire for the loved one burgeons in a way that goes well beyond the play of hormones and pheromones. The sex is then an outcome of the love, not the other way round. If someone is not able to achieve that depth of relationship with someone of the opposite sex, and we forbid a deep relationship with someone of their own gender, we are committing them to a life of loneliness that even the deepest of relationships with Christ will not compensate for.

Head and right shoulder of Rodin's Thinker

Perversity or Perplexity?

Should churches accept and seek God’s blessing for certain same-sex relationships, or should they not? This question is being hotly debated among Christians. Many conservative pastors and teachers think that the Scriptures in Leviticus 18, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6 settle the matter with no room for doubt. They are right that those passages have all forms of same-sex relationships in view, including those that might have been consensual, committed relationships between people whose lifelong orientation had been toward their own gender. All such relationships were forbidden to the Israelites when God gave them the law through Moses, and were also proscribed by Paul when the New Testament church was established.

However, several circumstances have worked together over recent decades to stir many pastors and teachers to ask whether God would have the Church now lift part of that proscription. The first circumstance is that in many jurisdictions same-sex relationships are no longer outlawed. Consequently, it has become possible to gain a much more objective, statistics-backed understanding of the homosexual world. It has therefore become clear to many that same-gender attraction is not a wilfully chosen deviation from heterosexual normalcy but is something that the person may have felt from childhood, even before there was any element of sexual stimulation in it.

The second circumstance is that, except in the most red-necked of conservative congregations, professing Christians who feel same-sex attraction are more willing to discuss it openly with their pastor. Pastors are therefore learning three things:

  • Some people who have a credible testimony of faith in Christ and whose Christian lives are exemplary in every other way find their same-sex longings overwhelmingly strong.
  • Many such people testify that, despite their prayers and struggles, God has not given them the grace for a celibate or heterosexual life. Believing with standard church teaching that their temptation arose from Satan, they have attempted to resist the devil but found that he did not flee. Therefore, they have wondered whether same-sex longings were a sinful temptation at all, or something else in God’s eyes.
  • A response along the nouthetic lines, “Well, you just haven’t yet prayed long enough or resisted hard enough,” is a denial of the energy that many have put into their struggle and the agony they have felt.

Some pastors may have noted another anomaly, too, because Romans 1 teaches that the ancient world’s adoption of homosexual practices arose after societies replaced the worship of the creator with the idolatrous worship of humans and other creatures, because God then removed his restraining hand from them. Modern pastors, however, are meeting people who believe every word of (say) the Nicene Creed and who worship the Triune God who is represented there, and who affirm the goodness of God’s creation design, but who nevertheless find no release from their same-sex attraction.

It is valid to take from Romans 1 that the existence in the world of homosexual desires and relationships is a consequence of the Fall, but it is not valid to reason in the opposite direction and assert that everyone who experiences same-sex attraction or engages in a same-sex relationship is shown to be an idolatrous rebel against God. Kevin DeYoung is wrong in logic when he asserts, “According to Paul’s logic, men and women who engage in same-sex sexual behavior—even if they are being true to their own feelings and desires—have suppressed God’s truth in unrighteousness” (DeYoung, 2015, p. 52).

The question is therefore not resolved as simply as DeYoung and other respected conservative teachers believe it is. As I continue this series of posts I will, God willing, try to answer some of the other objections that have been raised against the idea of a change in the Church’s stance – for instance, DeYoung when he says, “It would be strange for the prohibition against homosexual practice to be set aside when the rest of the sexual ethic is not” (p. 48) and “If the “is-ness” of personal experience and desire determines the “ought-ness” of embracing these desires and acting upon them, there is no logical reason why other sexual “orientations” (say, toward children, or animals, or promiscuity, or bisexuality, or multiple partners) should be stigmatized” (p. 111).

I will also attempt to show that

  • A change in the Church’s standards toward people in certain same-sex relationships would not run contrary to the doctrine of the unchanging simplicity of God.
  • The Church has a God-given responsibility and authority to consider and make such a change.
  • Such a change can be made consistently with a conservative view of the authority of Scripture. It does not require its holders to adopt a view of the kind that says that scripture is just the sum of believers’ imperfect and fallible testimonies to their experience of God.

What Does the Bible Teach about Everything?

Kevin DeYoung’s book. “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” (DeYoung, 2015) is an excellent exposition from a learned man who holds to a conservative position on this currently controversial topic. I agree with almost every point he makes en route to his conclusions but I think he falls at the final hurdle and draws some absolutist conclusions that are unwarranted. This post is the first of a series I will make, in which I will discuss those places where I believe DeYoung misses the mark.

Despite my disagreement with some of his major conclusions, I believe that his book deserves to be read by everyone who is weighing these issues.

What Does the Bible Teach about Everything?

The book’s introductory chapter is entitled “What Does the Bible Teach about Everything?” It is the right starting point and a brilliant one. DeYoung argues that the central plotline of the story of Scripture is, “a holy God making a way to dwell in the midst of an unholy people.” In this story, “[t]he Promised Land was a type of Eden” and “[t]he Promised Land was a lens through which God’s people were supposed to look back to the Eden that was and look forward to the Eden that was to come again” and, in the New Testament, “the picture of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 and 22 is a portrait of Eden restored.” I think most conservative scholars would agree with him so far.

DeYoung cites further passages from the New Testament and correctly states, “The garden, the land, and the temple did not prefigure a day when holiness no longer mattered”. He also cites Revelation 21:8, “But … the sexually immoral … will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death” and therefore concludes that “determining what constitutes sexual immorality in God’s mind has everything to do with the storyline of Scripture.” That leads him to pose the question, “Is homosexual activity a sin that must be repented of, forsaken, and forgiven, or, given the right context and commitment, can we consider same-sex sexual intimacy a blessing worth celebrating and solemnizing?” The rest of his book attempts to prove that the answer to the first part of the question is, unequivocally, “Yes”, and to the second part, “No”.

However, I believe that DeYoung has already demonstrated in this introductory chapter some ways in which his perception is blinkered, and I believe that the answers to the two parts of his question are not as unequivocal as he thinks

His summary is too compressed when he says, “As often as God had made a way to dwell in the midst of his unholy people, just as often had they squandered their God-wrought restoration. So God sent his Son…” (p. 12) (emphasis mine). I am sure that DeYoung believes with the writer of Hebrews that the acceptability to God of the Old Testament structures and sacrifices was entirely dependent on the foreknown sacrifice that would be made by Christ. Every sacrifice, from Abel’s through those of the Job, Abraham, and the first and second temples was only accepted because of Christ. The old Covenants and even the people’s failures under them slowly prepared the way for the coming of the Saviour. Despite all the unfaithfulness of Israel, and against the background of that unfaithfulness, the pedagogy of the law prepared a people from whom Jesus Christ could draw his disciples. Those disciples, further enlightened by what Jesus taught on the Emmaus road, were equipped to take the gospel of salvation by grace through faith to the world. The time had arrived of which Simeon spoke after the birth of Jesus, “…my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel”.

The storyline of Scripture describes a concave arc, down from Eden through the fall and the increasing depravity of mankind, and then upwards – despite the many grave failures of God’s called people – through the old Covenants to the era of the new Covenant and at last the new Heavens and Earth. This storyline includes the news that the kingdom of God has intruded into the world and has begun to change it – see Matthew 13:31-32, “He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches’” and Matthew 13:33, “He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.’” We therefore live in a world where the kingdom is partially realised but not fully so, and where the degree of manifestation of the kingdom has changed with time.

DeYoung’s summary misses the element of what we might call God’s practical graciousness toward his people along that whole arc from the Fall to the present time. None of those whom God has accepted have been perfect in their repentance or faith or holiness or even in their understanding of what holiness ought to be, but their imperfection in those areas has been covered by the blood of Christ, just like any of their other sins. DeYoung concentrates on the end points, the perfection of Eden and of the new heavens and earth, but in Eden, the Fall had not occurred and in the new heavens and earth, its every last vestige will have been removed. What, though, of us who are not there yet? What does the gospel set out as the strategy for our sanctification, we who struggle against whatever stumbling blocks were put in our way by our birth into a fallen family in a fallen world, and our life in a still-fallen world?

By missing God’s practical graciousness and by failing to recognise that we are at a different place on the storyline than even the Apostles were, DeYoung has failed to see some possibilities that may be open to the Church in our present time that were not open in previous generations. I will enlarge on that in future posts, as I respond to other chapters of DeYoung’s book.

Pragmatism – or Something Else?

Peter Carrell has kindly made some comments at Anglican Down Under on my previous two posts, and I want to reply here to one of those points. My response to other points will follow in a later post or posts

Peter says inter alia that my post “opens up a possible way forward towards blessing of same sex partnerships which might, just might receive agreement in our church if we saw our way to a pragmatic, pastoral approach.”  NB: you need to read that sentence in its full context to understand Peter’s own view of the matter – don’t read it as an affirmation of my position. However, here I simply want to discuss the use of “pragmatic”, as it is not a word I would use myself in connection with what I have proposed in my posts.

I do think that there is a kind of pragmatism that is Biblical. For instance, Jesus tells us to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves in our dealings with the world. We therefore need to weigh the biblical options and act in any particular situation so as to best serve the πραγμα of the gospel. Nevertheless, I would rather avoid using the word pragmatism in case anyone should misunderstand it to mean something sub-Biblical. Rather, I understand that it will be a momentous thing for the Church to make the kind of change that I have advocated, and, if it happens in a way that includes conservative Christians, it will be because the Holy Spirit has brought the great majority of us to that viewpoint. If that comes to pass, it won’t be as a capitulation to expediency but as a true, principled application of the Word of God.

I have already posted a review of Ken Wilson’s book, “A Letter to My Congregation.” Wilson is a conservative pastor who is troubled by the disconnect between what he sees as the gospel testimony and good character of LGBT people he encounters and the prima facie Biblical prohibitions of such relationships, and he is deeply touched by the anguish of soul they feel. I don’t believe he is the only one troubled that way. I think it is likely there are many thousands of conservative pastors and teachers worldwide who are similarly concerned. Is this just the spirit of this age working to deceive, if possible, even the elect, or is it the Spirit of Christ urging us all to revisit the matter and think it through again, bringing to bear on it the whole revelation of God? I think it is the latter, and we will come in the end to a common, Word-based understanding.

The Just Justifier

I believe that all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.

I believe that the inspired Word lays out the story of God’s people as a concave arc, from the original paradise of Eden, down through the Fall and ever-increasing depravity of mankind, then upwards through Sinai and the Cross of Christ to paradise fully regained in the new heavens and earth.

I believe that no scripture is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction or training in righteousness if it is interpreted in a way that wrenches it from its particular place on that arc. Careful exegesis shows that some scripture is always timelessly applicable, but that must be shown passage by passage; it must not be not be adamantly presumed. Yes – by all means make it a working hypothesis in your personal Bible study that any Scripture that you have newly come to is one of the timeless ones, but understand that deeper study may require you to change that understanding.

I believe that God intends us to engage our minds with his world and his word. The prototype for this is found in Genesis 2, when God brings the animals to Adam “to see what he would name them” – that is, how he would classify them.

I believe that our intellectual faculty was corrupted by the Fall, but that it shares in the restoration being brought about by God’s grace. While sometimes God has given his people a command and required obedience without explanation, as in the command not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, this is not the paradigm for our general relationship with his Word. A person who worships God mindlessly does not worship God as He actually is.

I believe that the prohibitions in the Mosaic Law and the New Testament against same-sex relationships allowed no exceptions, but that was because of the place that had been reached on the redemptive arc when those prohibitions were given. At Sinai, the Lord was setting up walls to protect the Hebrew people from the corruption of the surrounding nations while he prepared the way for the coming of Christ. In the New Testament era, the apostles were the servants of Christ as he began to build a church whose mission would include the task of cleaning the Augean stables of the pagan world. At both junctures, less than a total prohibition would have put the main objective at risk. Without it, we would not have come to the place of widespread grace where we find ourselves today.

On the basis of those beliefs, I believe that the time has come when the Church can:

  • Heed the testimonies of LGBT believers who tell us that their orientation dates from earliest childhood and that it was not wilfully chosen, and that supposed re-orientation therapies do not work for them, no matter how whole-heartedly they engage with them.
  • Heed their testimony that they are not able to form a meaningful, soul-satisfying heterosexual relationship, yet feel barred by the Church from entering a relationship with someone of their own orientation.
  • Hear their anguish at this state of affairs.
  • Recognise that a faithful same-sex union is not a threat to the Kingdom of God if it is welcomed and guarded with the same pastoral care as a heterosexual union.
  • And therefore declare that, while same-sex unions were not part of God’s pre-Fall design for humankind, faithful unions of that kind are covered by the grace of Christ in his redemptive plan and can be accepted and blessed within the Church.

The God who reveals himself to us through the Scriptures is a God of blazing light and overwhelming holiness. If we were to see him, our first reaction would be like Isaiah’s or John’s: “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts”, and “I fell at his feet as dead.” But, just as he did for Isaiah, God has sent an angel – Christ Jesus himself – with a coal to purge our unclean lips, and Jesus himself lays his right hand upon us and tells us to “fear not”, for this God reveals himself as both love and light. Through the cross of Christ, he has provided the act of mercy by which he can remain just and be the justifier of everyone who trusts in Jesus. The mercy of his love is able to triumph over the judgment of his light without dimming the latter. It is the post-conversion work of the Holy Spirit that shows us where we must amend our ways so that they conform more perfectly to his light – and I do not believe that the Spirit any longer requires believers to foreswear same-sex relationships, but simply to ensure those relationships strengthen and bring glory to the Kingdom of God.

Dear faithful, conservative pastor-teachers, I appeal to you. Please lift your eyes from your systematic theologies and look unblinkingly at the God whom your studies should have revealed to you. Engage both your heart and your brain. Cease selling God’s love short by trying to make his judgment triumph over his mercy when you deal with LGBT people, by demanding of them what, after all, God does not. Recognise instead that, as Cranmer put it in his great Eucharistic prayer, God is “the same Lord whose nature is always to have mercy.” Be imitators of him, your Saviour.