Raising the Flag of Faithfulness and Purity

In August 2018, Ely Cathedral flew a rainbow flag to mark an LGBT+ pride event that was taking place in the city. The Cathedral Chapter were rightly motivated in wanting to signal compassionate acceptance of LGBT+ people, but misguided in flying the rainbow flag. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ calls everyone to faith and discipleship, and it calls LGBT+ people just as much the heterosexually oriented to faithfulness in their relationships and purity in the their lives. The event whose flag Ely flew, however, included an ‘adults only” party. Any commitment to faithfulness and purity there may be by some in the movement whose flag this is, is accidental rather than typical. By flying the rainbow standard, the Chapter of Ely Cathedral signalled capitulation to a force that remains hostile to the standard of Christ.

Ian Paul (@Psephizo) has a lengthy discussion of the Ely question  here. I won’t spend any more time on that specific occasion here, except to refer to it in my remarks near the end of this post.

I would like us to look ahead twenty or so years and picture what things might look like within Tikanga Pakeha of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP)  if the provisions of Motion 7 (see footnote below), as passed at our May 2018 General Synod / Te Hinau Whanui (GSTHW), have taken root and been honoured on all sides.

  • The ACANZP by then has one or more bishops, and numbers of clergy, who are in same-sex relationships that have been blessed in the Church, and the thing that most surprises visitors from parishes and dioceses that still do not appoint such clergy is that, as these clergy lead in prayer and worship or in celebration of the Eucharist, their sexual orientation is invisible. Their goal, like the goal of every godly heterosexually-oriented servant of Christ, is to lift up Christ and make him visible, and therefore they efface themselves.

    In their preaching and pastoral work, they are known to make the call to faithfulness and purity loud and clear, and to counsel those of whatever sexual orientation to remain celibate if not in a Church-blessed relationship.

    In every church, conservative as well as others, those who struggle with the challenge of celibacy, whatever their orientation or stated identity, are given compassionate, non-judgmental counsel, prayer, and support. No one is ashamed or fearful of making their struggle and faltering known to their pastors.
  • Almost every parish also has some lay couples who are in blessed same-sex relationships, and they display by their actions and involvement that their zeal is for the full-orbed gospel mission given to us by Christ. The same commitment is evident in clergy in same-sex relationships, too.
  • All this initially came as a great surprise to many conservatives who, though having supported Motion 7 for the preservation of church unity, had nevertheless worried that it was a Trojan horse that would shortly lead to gay orgies on sacristy floors.

    Some, consequently, have been able to rethink the issue in the context of the whole counsel of Scripture. Seeing some things in Scripture they had not weighed before, they have changed their view and now support the blessing of faithful same-sex relationships.

    Others do not yet have that confidence, but almost all have come to the view that they are willing to leave the ultimate question in the gracious hands of God, and to receive such people as sisters, brothers and shepherds.
  • Of course, there have been some scandals and some dissolutions of relationships, but no more, proportionately, than among the Church’s heterosexual couples.

That is a possible future, but there are some things that could prevent it happening, and leave the church divided.

  • Foolish alliances with wickedness, such as that made by Ely Cathedral. (Conservatives, too, are capable of such alliances, as witness the support that so many evangelicals have given to Donald Trump, so please understand this caveat as applying to all parts of the Church.)
  • Scandals and relationship dissolutions that proportionately far outnumber those among heterosexually-oriented clergy and laity, so that the suspicion held by many conservatives is not dispelled, that same-sex relationships are somehow inherently disordered.
  • Priests who use the pulpit and altar as a platform for LGBT+ visibility rather than for the elevation of Christ.

Please bear with me as I draw upon a stereotype for humorous effect to illustrate the point: if the breeze from the sleeves of your surplice frequently blows out the altar candles, you may be guilty of the fault I’m naming here! I know that the stereotype is false as a stereotype, and applies only to a minority in gay circles even outside the Church, but I wanted to accompany what I intend as a serious point with a memorable image. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded.

Please bear with me as I draw upon a stereotype for humorous effect to illustrate the point: if the breeze from the sleeves of your surplice frequently blows out the altar candles, you may be guilty of the fault I’m naming here! (I know that the stereotype is false as a stereotype, and applies only to a minority in gay circles even outside the Church, but I wanted to accompany what I intend as a serious point with a memorable image. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded.)

I would add, too, that the breeze that comes from your mouth in your sermon or homily can also blow out the candles.

  • Insistence on changing the doctrine of the Church so that same-sex unions are deemed to be marriages, undifferentiated in any theologically meaningful way from heterosexual unions. The permission already achieved via Motion 7 for blessing same-sex unions will not, I think, lead to many more resignations from the ACANZP than have already occurred, but insistence on changing the doctrine of marriage, I think, will. I hope that those who would like to see such a change will let it lie.

My hope is for the first set of outcomes, but my fear is that the second set may prevail. Let us encourage one another to beware of them.

Footnote: About Motion 7

Motion 29 of GSTHW 2016 resulted in the establishment of a working group which was charged with bringing recommendations to GSTHW 2018 on “possible structural arrangements within the Church to safeguard both theological convictions concerning the blessing of same gender relationships”.

At GSTHW 2018, Motion 7 received the report and adopted for implementation the essence of its recommendations. (That is why you may see the terms “Motion 7” and “Motion 29” used more or less interchangeably in imprecise discussions of this issue.) The same Synod accordingly approved five statutes that amended a number of canons and also created a new one, for purposes that were stated in the preamble to each statute. To make it easy to understand what was achieved, I have listed those purpose statements (rather than the amended canons), below.

Statute 747 “…amending Title D Canon I to provide for immunity from complaint and discipline for Ordained Ministers who either agree, or refuse to agree, to conduct services blessing couples in civil marriages or civil unions in accordance with an amended Title G Canon XIV and to provide immunity from complaint and discipline for those who preach or teach that such services are, or are not, consistent with Holy Scripture and the doctrine of this Church” [and]

“…amending Title D Canon II to provide for immunity from complaint and discipline for bishops who either authorise, or refuse to authorise, a form of service blessing couples in civil marriages or civil unions and who either authorise, or refuse to authorise, Ordained Ministers to conduct such services in accordance with an amended Title G Canon XIV and to provide immunity from complaint and discipline for those who preach or teach that such services are, or are not, consistent with Holy Scripture and the doctrine of this Church”

Statute 748 “…amending Title G Canon XIV to create a framework to allow for Bishops to: a. authorise services blessing those in any civil marriage or civil union; and b. authorising individual Ordained Ministers to conduct such services.”

Statute 749 “…To give effect to the recommendations of the Motion 29 working group by enacting a new Title B Canon XXXVIII to provide for the recognition of Christian Communities and for the affiliation of Ministry Units with them.”

Statute 750 “…To amend Title A Canon I, Title A Canon II and Title B Canon XXI so that the forms of declaration of adherence and submission set out there are consistent with the forms of declaration of adherence and submission set out in the Constitution/Te Pouhere.”

Statute 751 “…To amend clause 15 of Part C of the Constitution/Te Pouhere to repeal and replace the existing form of declaration of adherence and submission”


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