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rainbow-churchThe biggest issue confronting evangelicalism today is not over homosexuality and marriage, but whether or not these are “agree-to-disagree” issues.

The question takes various forms:

  • Can progressive evangelicals who advocate same-sex marriage share a measure of unity with the rest of the global church?
  • Is it possible to see one’s view of sexual ethics as a dividing line between evangelical churches (similar to debates over baptism, speaking in tongues, etc.), but not something that necessitates a divorce within evangelicalism as a whole?
  • Can believers simply “agree to disagree” on this contentious issue and allow various views to exist within what is commonly accepted as “orthodoxy?”

Two Views

David Gushee, an ethicist who now supports same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships, recently wrote an article explaining why conservative and progressive evangelicals are headed for a divorce. According to Gushee, the nature of marriage and sexuality is merely the tip of the iceberg because there are “a hundred other fractures” – questions related to biblical authority and political involvement.

Gushee sees these debates as a replay of the fundamentalist-modernist controversy from a hundred years ago, and he concludes:

“Conservative and progressive evangelicals need to let each other go their separate ways, acknowledging that despite shared faith in Christ we have become two separate religious communities.”

Paul Louis Metzger, founder and director of The Institute for the Theology of Culture, pushes back against Gushee’s recommendation, appealing to Christ’s concern for unity. “How can we go our separate ways unless we no longer belong to the same Christ?” he asks.

Quoting Wolfhart Pannenberg, Metzger worries that disunity in the body of Christ is the leading cause of “a world free from all religious ties.” Instead, we should fight to remain together in order to avoid presenting a “dismembered” Christ to the world.

Unity and the Drawing of Lines

I agree with Metzger that schism in the Church is a tragic thing, and schism should be avoided whenever possible. But I also recognize we cannot avert schism merely by appealing to unity.

Today, one of the common complaints from the progressive side is that evangelicals are always “drawing lines” and “making distinctions” and “policing boundaries” and declaring “who’s in and who’s out.” One wonders what they’d say about the apostles, whose concern about boundaries stands out in so many of their letters, right in line with Jesus’ frequent warnings against false teachers.

Like Jesus, the New Testament writers made constant appeals to unity, but they also drew bold, dark lines regarding what constituted genuine Christian teaching. Flip through any of the letters of Paul, Peter, Jude, and John, and you can’t help but notice the contrast between sound doctrine and error, unity and schism, what constitutes true teaching versus false.

Where Did the Schism Start?

Schisms are indeed tragic, and Christians are right to resist them and seek any other avenue of resolution. But in our efforts to avoid schism, we must not fail to ask the question: Where is the division coming from?

Back in 2009, N. T. Wright, then the Bishop of Durham in the Church of England, wrote that the actions of the Episcopal Church (USA) had initiated a schism would tear apart the fabric of the Anglican Communion. “The Americans know this will end in schism,” he wrote.

“Jesus’ own stern denunciation of sexual immorality would certainly have carried, to his hearers, a clear implied rejection of all sexual behavior outside heterosexual monogamy,” Wright went on, and then, explaining why this is not and can never be an “agree-to-disagree issue,” he wrote:

“This isn’t a matter of ‘private response to Scripture’ but of the uniform teaching of the whole Bible, of Jesus himself, and of the entire Christian tradition.”

Wright is right, and Gushee is wrong. Gushee positions this debate as if it is merely between progressives and evangelicals. No. The bigger picture shows that those who redefine marriage and sexuality do so in opposition to the global Christian church and the entire Christian tradition. It’s not progressives vs. conservatives, but progressives vs. every Christian and Church that has ever been.

Unchanging Witness

unchangingThe latter part of Wright’s statement above is clarified in the starkest of terms in a nearly-400 page book by S. Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams entitled Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition. This new book provides an exhaustive account of both Scriptural exegesis and the Church’s vision of human sexuality. They write:

The issue is not whether the Bible addresses homosexual practice: it does. It is not whether diverse interpretations on this issue have existed in the history of the church: they have not. The issue is, rather, what is authoritative for the church in the formation of its convictions and in its practices.

Page after page in this book demonstrates the internal consistency – or as the title suggests, the “unchanging witness” – of the church’s interpretation of biblical sexual ethics. After I read this book, it was clearer to me than ever that today’s schisms are a result of error, not truth. The authors continue: 

On the issue of homosexual practice, no person or church or group should say that biblical texts mean something other than what the church has said all along because both Scripture and the church have consistently said the same thing. The issue comes down to this: the authority of Scripture and the relevance of the church’s teaching. That is where we wish to leave the matter, for that is the point at which some in the church are dividing from the rest of the church universal, from the teaching of the church in other centuries, and from what must indeed be considered the teaching of all Christians.

The Progressive Promotion of Schism

In his appeal to unity, Metzger quoted from Wolfhart Pannenberg on how devastating our divisions are for the church’s witness. But when it came to the church’s unchanging witness on sexuality, Pannenberg, in the 1990’s, warned about the inevitable schism that would occur if segments of the church began to advocate new views on marriage. He wrote:

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

Schism may be occurring, and it is indeed tragic. Let us weep over it, pray against it, and love the world we’ve been called to serve. But let’s not underplay the seriousness of the progressive assault on the entire Christian tradition’s understanding of marriage.

As Maxie Dunnam, a United Methodist, has asked:

“If we can’t trust the church in our understanding of marriage, then whom are we to trust?”


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Comments:


51 thoughts on “Can We “Agree To Disagree” On Sexuality and Marriage?”

    1. Alan says:

      The word is the word. This is not a peripheral issue. “And he answered and said unto them, Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female,” -Matthew 19:4.

      Six times in the Gospels we read references by Christ to Sodom and Gomorrah. Why should we follow the Harvard Divinity School graduates’ modern “translations” and so deviate from the clear and modern meanings (same as 1611) of fornication, adultery, and sodomy and sodomite?

      I have very dear loved ones that God willing I would die for that have followed the world’s lies in this very central and crucial issue. It was front and center in the mention of the reasons for God’s judgments on Israel during the reign of wicked kings.

    2. This article reminds of of the question asked by satan to Eve in Genesis 3:1, ” Did God actually say”. The God of the Bible has spoken on this subject, so to entertain a question about same sex marriage being an issue of unity or not is to spit in God’s face. Trevin Wax shows his disregard for God’s word by writing such a weak, article, showing himself a light weight.

  1. Tim Martin says:

    I appreciate the insight into this issue, but I’m afraid that the blog entry is missing a critical element: What do we do about it?

    We have powerful options, such as prayer, and loving, persistent discussion, but as the saying goes: it takes two to tango. In relationships, there are two kinds of breakups – amicable and NOT. And amicable split requires equal cooperation between both parties. If either party is bitter, the net effect – regardless how much loving the less-bitter party may be – is essentially the same to outside eyes.

    What would cause greater damage to the witness of the body of Christ? An “agree to disagree” attitude where we maintain an internal, loving, discussion but internal division that often seeps to the pre-believer? A knock-down, drag-out fight over the authority of Scripture that pre-believers witness and take away what they may? Something in between? Perhaps to address this, we should be asking ourselves what the greater priority of the church should be? Witness or purity?

    God is sovereign, and whatever the outcome, he will use it according to his purpose, but are there any active steps we can take, specific traps we can avoid in addressing this smaller subset of the progressive issue?

    I cannot help but to feel like we are treating the symptoms and not the disease. I wish we could gather a council of diverse and great minds (and hearts) at Trent, Nicaea, or some other appropriately weighty place, to hash this out and set down a clear, concise and definitive word on Biblical authority and accuracy.

    1. Kim says:

      What do we do about it? Pray that God’s Spirit convicts those who refuse to follow Him and have mercy on them. Walk in love with them and help them to see that we MUST follow God’s Word or suffer the consequences. God’s word says we are to lead them back onto the right path. But if they insist upon doing their own thing, then yes, separation is a must. Why? B/c Jesus said so. I personally don’t have any friends who are progressive Christians b/c Iron sharpens Iron. I love Jesus more than I love being popular or ‘nice’. I think the best thing we can do is to encourage them to follow Jesus and if they insist on doing their own thing, then do as Paul said, hand them over to Satan and let Satan bat them around a bit. I”m sorry to be so mean, but Jesus makes the rules, not me. I for one will do as God wants me to do and if that makes me a hater, then so be it.

    2. OutsideTheGate says:

      Hi there, Tim.
      As a Catholic, I had to smile. But, at the same time, sympathise deeply with your comment. Interesting thoughts.

      When I was an Evangelical, I frequently struggled with any idea of hearing someone or something described as ‘schismatic’ or ‘heretical’ when I was surrounded by Bible-believing denominations. It seemed to me to be a bit of a glass house. Does ‘Denomination’ imply schism as the cause of it’s inception? But also is the implication that something once considered schismatic is now accepted as normative?

      Weren’t the Anglicans in this position being the first to ‘legalise’ contraception at the 1930 Lambeth Conference when all the other denominations still universally condemned it (for a while)? Yet, its accpetance now seems pretty universal?

      Won’t people argue the same will be true of Homosexuality in 50 years time? It’s a storm in a teacup today, as all Christian will be enlightened and come to see there’s no big deal about homosexuality like they discovered contraception was no big deal either?

      Maybe what your suggesting is what we find attempted in things like the Manhattan Declaration? However, it’s still something voluntary to which which one can opt in. Who would opt in to a Council at Nicea? Whole denominations or parts of denominations, etc.?

      You might find this video interesting. A Catholic Theologian reviewing and commenting on the theme of Authority in Alister McGrath’s book, Christianity’s Dangerous Idea in light of your (good) idea of a council. It’s interesting to ponder but I wonder (seriously, and not in a negative sense) how would it would work out in practice and how authority would be played out? Would we agree that a council without authority, for example, would be of not much use?

      1. InvisibleInk says:

        OutsideTheGate, in your view, what role, if any, should cultural acceptance play in discerning the truth of scripture?

        1. OutsideTheGate says:

          Hi InvisibleInk

          I hope you’re not coming from the angle of the idea that most of the Catholic Church’s ‘apostasy’ (as you see it) is the result of acculturation of ‘pagan beliefs’. If you are, I can’t answer that one, as it’s uninformed tosh which has been circulated more by Jack Chick – people who are only intelligent enough to read comics and believe them as ‘gospel’ – as if reading everything one reads about Spiderman in a Marvel comic must be true, because Marvel is the authentic source of facts on Superheroes.

          However, isn’t your question also assuming that what you call ‘cultural acceptance’ is the lens through which we read Scripture? We do not do this. I’m not going into it, because I would be wasting my time as I have a hunch your question is not one based in genuine enquiry in the way it’s been phrased.

  2. Curt Day says:

    To me, this article missing what should be the focal point of the question of whether Christians can agree to disagree. The focal point is the location of our agreeing to disagree. For if we are talking about agreeing to disagree on sexuality in society, the inability to agree to disagree has led even some conservative young people to veer off in the progressive direction. If it is talking about agreeing to disagree on sexuality in the Church, then the schism forecasted is necessarily unavoidable.

  3. Yes, seconding Tim Martin, what do we do now? How exactly should a believer who believes in the Bible interact/have fellowship with/minister alongside a believer like Gushee? Is this a time when we say, “with such a man do not even eat?” Do we cut ourselves off from fellowship with them in order for them to choose between God’s Kingdom blessings (unhindered fellowship) and their own persistence in believing something against Scriptures?

  4. Cedric says:

    Ok, so, progressive evangelicals are wrong on this subject. But I just read the “Resolution On Racial Reconciliation On The 150th Anniversary Of The Southern Baptist Convention”.

    It contains the following paragraphs:

    1) Since its founding in 1845, the Southern Baptist Convention has been an effective instrument of God in missions, evangelism, and social ministry.

    2) Our relationship to African-Americans has been hindered from the beginning by the role that slavery played in the formation of the Southern Baptist Convention;

    So it took 150 years for Southern Baptists to repudiate the sin of slavery, and they think that during all that time, they were an “an effective instrument of God”.

    Shouldn’t conservative evangelicals show some grace and patience with progressive evangelicals, recognizing that they are “an effective instrument of God”, in the hope that 150 years from now they will change, repent, and say “ok, we were wrong”?

    1. OutsideTheGate says:

      Good point. But, (not wanting to repudiate it) would it have to be ‘de-legalised’ first? That is, do we need a ‘Wilberforce-like’ person in government first?

      But also, the decriminalization of Homosexuality is a reverse of slavery, isn’t it? That is, slavery was discriminatory, and Wilberforce got them to see black people were persons. So, isn’t the decriminalization of homosexuality (they would argue) the removal of discrimination by certain people and groups?

      Aren’t we, therefore, being seen as the discriminators, the equivalent of ‘slave owners’, by discriminating? In a sense, hasn’t our high view of persons come back to bite us?

      1. OutsideTheGate says:

        Addendum: As a Catholic, homosexual acts are differentiated from homosexuals, as persons. It is the acts which are sinful. The trouble is, the media and those outside, tend to be intellectually clumsy or ham-fisted (or even deliberately obtuse) in taking these (very important, if not vital) distinctions seriously.

        1. TruthMatters says:

          That may be the Roman Catholic Church stance but it’s not the stance Jesus took. The act is sinful but so are the thoughts that lead to the act. Aren’t thought part of the person. It doesn’t give us permission to shun or hate but all the more to love that person and rebuke their behavior. If they, as members of the church, will not repent then Paul says (under divine revelation) we are to release them to Satan.

          Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

          1. Such a pitiful response. To use your thought process, we should all be locked up because we are all guilty of murder, since we think it. I guess Sodom was destroyed by sinful thoughts, right ? Maybe our spouses would have a biblical reason for divorce because we’ve all committed mental adultrey .

            1. TruthMatters says:

              I apologize for not making myself clear. God requires that length and breathe of holiness for entering his kingdom for those under the law. For those that are covered by the righteous blood of Christ they are forgiven their sins. To love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself (Luke 10:27, Deut 6:4 and Lev 19:18). So yes by law we are all subject to judgement and prison of hell without the blood of Christ. We are commanded to love Jesus and abide in him (John 15) and be obedient to his commands (John 15, 1 John 1:6-7). This is my point. We are all guilty and fall short of the glory of God, in our actions and our thoughts, and we need the forgiveness of Christ.

          2. Tim Martin says:

            Would a regenerate person with homosexual tendencies be more likely to look with lust in their hearts than one with heterosexual tendencies? I think not.

            Every man, woman and child who has ever walked the earth is tempted. Scripture is clear that temptation in and of itself is not sin; embracing it is.

    2. InvisibleInk says:

      Christ’s return is imminent, Cedric. You can’t assume we have 150 years. Patience should not involve affirmation.

  5. Matthew Hagwood says:

    As an 18 year old in a liberal education facility, I understand how this schism is pounding on those who hold to “orthodox” Christian teachings. When the Supreme Court recognized gay marriage as a legitimate union it begged my question, “How would this further divide the church?” Now, I hold to the orthodox traditions and see no biblical support for it.

    Gay marriage has been a hard issue for me to deal with because other students know my stance on it; however, I’ve had no backlash. Why? Because I still recognize that I have faults and I try my hardest not to condemn homosexuals or anyone else with issues. It’s not my place to judge, only to witness.The church has done a poor job, in my opinion, of dealing with issues similar to gay marriage in the past. What did the church do with Roe v. Wade? What about divorce in the 80s and 90s (with those numbers rising continuously)? What about violence in poorer communities? The answer is this: little to nothing. The church has only addressed these issues once it was too late. We are failing in teaching our youth groups, college kids, and younger kids in a way that is not watered down. I have seen too many churches where this is so. This is where the schism lies: poor, inadequate teaching. I don’t mean to be so harsh (if that’s how I am appearing) but this is the truth.

    All of that in mind, I have no idea how to reverse this trend. But I do know that we, as part of the universal church, can not continue to stand idly by while people continue to compromise the Bible, God’s characteristics, and church teachings to fit their own agendas.

    1. Todd says:

      Interesting comments. Depending on how you define the “church,” what it did in response to Roe was worse than doing nothing. The church surrendered to culture. PCUSA, for example, actively opposes restrictions on even partial-birth abortion.

      It has reacted similarly with respect to same sex marriage. It not only tolerates the secular re-defining of marriage, but rushes to incorporate the practice. In my opinion, it is one thing not to judge but yet an entirely different matter to affirm and celebrate.

      1. Matthew Hagwood says:

        What I mean by “the church” I would include liberal and conservative churches. I noticed this one thing back in June 2015: the conservative side seemed to wake up and say “oh crap, we have to do something about it.” Case and point: there was a church in my home town (among others) who was oblivious to the upcoming decision. When the decision was made, they were up in arms about it. I asked, “What the heck is wrong with you? Why are you all just now responding? It’s too late.” The liberal side is active, just in the wrong way. The conservative side is inactive, which is just as wrong. Therefore, I have to ask, “Did the conservative Christian leaders and pastors even bother with teaching human dignitity for the fetus or what marriage actually is?” It seems as though, at least to me, that they did not. And even if they did, it obviously didn’t sink in. Now we are trying to deal with it, but the other side won’t listen because gay marriage has been recognized (I also don’t mean to say “conservative side” or “liberal side.” Just a means of distinguishing lol).

        All in all, I see that both sides are to blame for the schism. They don’t want to meet each other half way in After all, humans are not God. Since we are not God, we are not perfect. Everything won’t be set right until Jesus our Lord returns.

        1. Matthew Hagwood says:

          It’s a “where did we go wrong?” The answer is that I don’t know, but I do know it has a lot to do with teaching clearly and authoritatively. That’s pretty much the whole of my point. But we can’t just ignore the schism either. But what can we do when (a) both sides did their own thing, (b) the ones promoting gay marriage won’t listen, and (c) we don’t know where the schism began to occur? Sad world, I believe.

          1. Todd says:

            Thanks for the clarification. Again, you make good points.

      2. Tim Martin says:

        I can’t speak for the author or any other commenter, but I believe the most effective definition of church in this discussion is Merriam-Webster’s 3a, “the whole body of Christians”.

        “Church.” Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2016.

    2. OutsideTheGate says:

      Hi there, Matthew. Well written, and thought provoking!

      What I’d say in response to your last point is that I found something very significant in reading Jim Packer and Gary Parrett’s book, Grounded in the Gospel: Building Believers the Old-Fashioned Way.

      It stresses catechesis and having doctrine, but what I consider it weak on, however, is the authoritative nature of doctrine. They suggest how you create your own local catechism, and what one’s teaching must be, it seems to me, something outside the control of the local community, or else it just becomes the view of the strongest, or loudest, leaders. This is why Kevin deYoung’s book, The Good News We Almost Forgot: Rediscovering the Gospel in a 16th Century Catechism, compliments their book perfectly.

      Interestingly, to give you a Catholic perspective, our young people are beginning to grow again in numbers and in orthodoxy, by being switched on by a return to ‘catechism and catechesis’ because the approach is intellectually satisfying and refreshingly different from the relativistic, seeker-friendly, and ‘relevant’ (marketing) approaches which see them as consumers to be manipulated by the sort of bait-and-switch mentality found in so many contemporary ‘evangelistic techniques’, which demean people by offering the religious equivalent of emotional or spiritual doggy treats to attract members.

  6. Haze says:

    I think I’d be more willing to accept someone who genuinely believes that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality and the bits that say (to paraphrase) “homosexuality is a sin” have been misinterpreted, than someone who holds that the Bible is simply wrong on this matter. The latter denies the authority of Scripture, the former doesn’t. Now, admittedly more people seem to fall into the second camp and those who move into the first often seem to realise their ideas don’t hold water and move into the second over time, but I still think it may be overdoing things to put people from the first camp out of the church – though we should also strive to correct their thinking.

  7. Neil Pratt says:

    As long as conservative Christians align themselves with the likes of Kevin Swanson and Ted Cruz on issues like these, whose thinking boils down to “eliminate the opposition”, there can be no “agree to disagree”.

    1. Todd says:

      Please provide evidence concerning Ted Cruz wishing to “eliminate the opposition.” That seems to be an uncharitable accusation.

      1. Trevin Wax says:

        Hey guys,

        I would like us to stay on topic here and not focus on the political angle. The issue here is how the church and Christians will view radically different views of sexuality and marriage, and if differences of perspective will be accepted as “within the bounds of orthodoxy.”

        I know there are political issues related to same-sex marriage and gay rights, but this post and the comments are not dealing with those. Thanks.

    2. Kim says:

      Well, Neil, it’s God who makes the rules, not us. I don’t make any rules. Paul said that if folks refuse to do what God says, then we are to show them to the door. Jude talks about progressive Christians in that he says

      I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God’s marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.

      5 So I want to remind you, though you already know these things, that Jesus[b] first rescued the nation of Israel from Egypt, but later he destroyed those who did not remain faithful.

      But these people scoff at things they do not understand. Like unthinking animals, they do whatever their instincts tell them, and so they bring about their own destruction. 11 What sorrow awaits them! For they follow in the footsteps of Cain, who killed his brother. Like Balaam, they deceive people for money. And like Korah, they perish in their rebellion.

      So what is Jude saying? That progressive Christians who make the rules, do what they want b/c it feels good, who pervert God’s Holy word will NOT make it into heaven. Once you’re dead, you’re dead, There’s no going back. Jesus said He would say to MANY, I don’t know you. I don’t understand why more people aren’t frightened by those words. I fear for progressive Christians b/c I have no idea where they’ll go. But I don’t think it’s to heaven. So yeah, a divorce is coming b/c I for one, refuse to budge from God’s word. If God says it’s wrong, I say it’s wrong. I’d rather have the world hate me b/c I stand for Jesus as opposed to missing out in heaven b/c I didn’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. Jesus said if you love Me, you’ll obey Me. It’s simple. Either do things as Jesus says to do them, or He’ll say, I don’t know you.

      1. Phil H says:

        “I don’t understand why more people aren’t frightened by those words.

        Excellent comment and scriptural reference Kim. I agree with you, I don’t understand why more aren’t frightened by these words from our Lord either.

        Homosexuality is non-negotiable.

  8. Jim Needham says:

    The article hits the nail on the head in that it isolates the real issue behind what we do with homosexuality. That is the issue of authority. As an Anglican, and former Baptist, I noticed that the article implicitly supported what anglicans (and others, such as Methodists) have traditionally argued: that biblical authority although supreme and primary, also depends on the historic teaching of the church for interpretation. In this case, it is only when one rejects or ignores the historic teaching of the church through the ages that they are free to rely on their own subjective interpretation and therefore embrace homosexuality.

  9. Two things: Mr. Gushee uses the term “progressive evangelicals”, referring to those accepting of homosexual relationships and marriage. That is not progressive .. it is regressive. Regressive clear back to Romans 1:24 and following.

    If we “regress” to 1 Corinthians 5, we’re clearly instructed to banish those living in open sinfulness from the Church Body altogether.

    I can certainly agree to disagree with those referred to as “progressive” and also refuse to acknowledge their part in the Body of Christ. In light of the Bible, and in light of the fact that the decline of morality has portended the fall of most every nation that has fallen from within, I can most certainly do that.

  10. Andy says:

    Not much to add much here but I recently left a church that changed their stance on marriage, from traditional to progressive. I disagree with the ‘churches’ new stance on this and I’m attending a church that holds to a traditional view of marriage. Not that it’s funny but it’s kind of funny that within the congregation the issue still persists. So I can agree to disagree with individual members, but I won’t agree to disagree with what the church teaches.

  11. Will Mason says:

    I’m a pastor (teaching elder) in the PC(USA) and since my church has been named in this thread I thought I’d clarify a few things. 1)Throwing my church under your bus for argument purposes is disgusting and un-Christian. How dare you! Do you know me? Have you been to my church? How can you make such a charge that we are following culture and not our Lord Jesus Christ when all of my fellow pastors read the Bible in their pulpits every Sunday as they proclaim God’s word? You owe all of us an apology for such incredible self righteousness and gossip. 2) No one speaks for anyone in my church. Therefore the statement that the PC(USA) says thus and so about abortion is a statement by one General Assembly which any Presbyterian can affirm or reject. Therefore you must ask each Presbyterian what they believe about a non-salvation issue. We are all agreed that we must believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Our church governance in one way is like that of Baptists in that our General Assembly is like a Fellowship or Convention recommending positions we can take on certain issues. We can agree to disagree. 3) Presbyterians believe in several preliminary principle’s of church order including, “The Lord alone is the Lord of my conscience.” So by example of people following their conscience on abortion there is a Presbyterians Pro Life lobby and a Presbyterian’s Pro Choice lobby. Also, I feel there is a lazy argument in the blog and the comment thread with the use of the word orthodoxy. The assumption is that “orthodoxy” trumps all other arguments as untruths. Yet all one has to do is follow a biblical word search for Gentile and marriage to see that orthodoxy has changed regarding these subjects. Any argument using orthodoxy as a static time/space scripture as evidence of scriptural arguments against the church’s statements about homosexuality and marriage needs to take into account that the “orthodoxy” about these subjects has changed. If you take the New Testament seriously, you no doubt read that section 2 Corinthians 5:16-21. You cannot say yes to your argument in the Blog when God has said no to your argument of separation. The question it seems to me is what are conservatives and progressives (and moderates) to do after they have taken their stands. The Church in Jerusalem came together and agreed to disagree about who is a Christian and how do they act. They agreed (publicly) that Gentiles are Christians and allowed churches to establish home rule. How do we come back together? If the blog argument is advocating separation in the house of Christ, implying that you alone have the position to take on this issue, don’t you weaken the argument that you are taking an orthodox position, especially if by orthodoxy you mean the Bible including 2 Corinthians 5? Or were you saying that the Bible orthodoxy supports you except there? All very interesting.

    1. Fr. Jim says:

      “the Lord alone is the lord of my conscience”

      Can the Lord be “Lord” both over the conscience of someone who believes that abortion is murder and one that believes it is an last ditch form of birth control? It seems that if he is truly the “Lord” (meaning the ruler) then he is either double minded or is not Lord of one of those consciences (and one is simply wrong, no matter how well-intentioned and Christ-like they are in other areas or how much Bible they quote).
      While I value the conscience very much, surely there has to be a higher authority. Centuries of faithful, prayerful and thoughtful Christians saying something that I disagree with should, at the very least, make we question my interpretation. Otherwise I am like the man who calls home to report to his wife that everyone but him is driving the wrong way on the freeway. Or like the situation the Bible describes negatively by saying, “everyone did was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:2)

    2. Tom says:

      Are you worried that by being a part of a denomination that affirms sin, that God will judge you for that as per Revelation 2:20 ?

    3. Richard Worden Wilson says:

      Sorry, Will Mason, but your statement that at the Jerusalem council “The Church in Jerusalem [which was actually the whole region wide Church] came together and agreed to disagree about who is a Christian and how do they act” is simply not the case. There was complete agreement and no “go and do what you think right in your local context.”

  12. Doug says:

    It is instructive that history records not one civilization surviving acceptance of homosexuality. With the exception of Europe and the USA, most the world rejects it. In Romans, Paul describes homosexuality in terms of proportional justice—eye for eye, tooth for tooth. It is an example of God’s present wrath upon those who given extraordinary light, reject it. They worship and serve the creature rather than Creator. Homosexuality and apostate societies go hand in hand. As Christ-followers we must seperate ourselves from the cause and the effect. That said, God’s present wrath is distinguished from His future wrath in that it is meant to be corrective and is reversible. We should welcome and assist those who seek to escape.

    1. Tiribulus says:

      Excellent Doug!!! Well said.

      Will Mason, there is no such thing as a homosexual affirming or pro murderer by abortion “Christian.”

    2. Phil H says:

      And to that end, like many, I’m appalled at the wholesale change that has occurred in this country over the past 7+ years during which the SCOTUS ruling came down and disgusted by the current political campaign. Therefore we must remain strong and courageous and continue to bear witness to the Truth.

    3. Libby Trudeau says:

      Civilizations of all kinds rise and fall eventually. In fact, not one civilization (if by that you mean a group of people who identify with and answer to a collective governing body) has NOT failed throughout all of history. The ones that exist today rose out of the ashes of their predecessors. So actually no, what you said is not “instructive” in the least.

      1. Doug says:

        Libby,
        No doubt every civilization has ultimately fizzled, only Christ’s kingdom endures. The oft repeated biblical maxim is, “The wicked shall be cut off, but the righteous will inherit the land.” That said, history does provide examples of exemplary societies that have endured over multiple generations. We can learn from their examples. Christ said “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.” Perhaps I should have said, “No example exists of a multi-generational, exemplary homosexual society.” Perhaps you know of one?

  13. Samuel Son says:

    Reducing the issue to the bone essential: is the person believing “homosexuality is not sin” a Christian? If the person is Christian, then there is no reason for cessation of fellowship (a fellowship that actually creates more space for discipleship of grace and repentance). And if fellowship should not cease between two Christians with opposing convictions, then it shouldn’t be for the Church. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. This is ethics that comes from how I interpret scripture. But I don’t think a progressive has any lesser view of scripture because honestly, we all have a canon within a canon. The issue of “agree to disagree” is really an issue of ecclesiology. What is the true Church? The marks are simple. Preaching of the Gospel and the Administration of the Sacrament. The warnings against fellowship in the Epistles are against false teachings about Christ that denies Christ’s nature and work. Christology. Those who deny Christ was God’s Son actually disqualify themselves as Christians. At that point, it is not even schism but letting them be honest about what they believe. But using anything else as a reason for division is in danger of accretion to the gospel. Division on ethic, or even one’s view of scripture, sounds a lot like self-righteousness, something I would think GC would be more aware of. Leslie Newbigin in his little book (or long essay) titled “Household of God” reminds us that the purity of the Church belongs to eschatology, which is to say the work of Christ. It is a fancy way of distilling the lesson in Jesus’ parable about the Kingdom of God where the servants ask the master if they should rip out the weeds and the master says let them be until the harvest time or they might end up pulling out the good ones too. We protestants are bit too eager to purify the field before the harvest.

    1. Todd says:

      Very thoughtful analysis. Within PCUSA, there is no discipline of ministers who deny the divinity of Christ, deny the resurrection or deny that salvation is through Christ. These are far more significant errors, in my mind, than abandonment of the historical understanding of homosexuality.

    2. Tom says:

      That approach doesnt seem to line up with 1 Corinthians 5 ?

  14. Able Baker says:

    I am happy to see that this article has created such robust a discussion. My prayer concerning this issue is that we schism less and make more room within what it means to be evangelical. Unity in and of itself is no the answer and a schism in and of itself is not the answer.

    The great benefit of free American evangelical theology is that has a long history of considering religious truth in relation to spiritual needs. It is a truly local church pastoral movement. I hope we don’t sacrifice that for a cold clinical and inhuman approach to theology in the name of schism.

  15. Bill F. says:

    For almost 2,000 years, and more if we add the Old Testament community since the Law of Moses was given, the people of God have clearly understood because of God’s revelation that homosexuality was a sin decreed, not by man or dictated by the culture but by God. His Word has consistently revealed that this act was and is a sin. This is graphically illustrated by Genesis 19 in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When we move to the New Testament, the Apostle Paul was very clear in Romans 1, that the practice of homosexuality was a sign that God gave people over to this sin because they refused to repent of it!

    We know that individual Christians struggle with this sin as they do many others. We are called to pray for them as they face this temptation. We love them in the struggle and ask God to free them. But this is a far cry from us condoning this sin because the whole Bible speaks against it! I do not have the freedom to change what God has said about it! “Progressives” have left historic Christianity, they practice another faith that the Bible does not speak of. The one who they worship is not revealed in the pages of Scripture and as such, as sad as it is to say, there is no common ground to agree upon! We love them and pray that God would open the eyes of their understanding to see the Lord for who the Bible reveals him to be. If we cannot trust what the Scriptures say in this area, how can we trust it in other areas?

  16. Meg I. says:

    Sigh, thank you Trevin for this article. Being raised in an extremely liberal denomination that will probably be non-existent in 100 years, it seems to me that today as always, the issue goes back to Genesis 3, “Did God really say…” I find the term “progressive evangelical” as a bit of an oxymoron as when I left my liberal (non Bible believing) denomination after really meeting Christ, the term evangelical became a title I bore proudly: one who believes the Scriptures from the perspective that they are inerrant and one who shares their faith in obedience to Matt. 28:18 -20. Was I/am I missing something? Because of the authority of Scripture in our lives (over culture or church denomination), the schism is unavoidable. Ironically, as you wrote this Dr. Mohler was speaking at Focus on the Family about how we will be taking stands that will make us wildly unpopular. I guess these stands will make us wildly unpopular even in the body of Christ. “Sola Scriptura” and all of the other “solas” will prove to be truth in the end.

  17. Diana Freeman says:

    Agreeing to disagree may work in theory, but we are dealing with real lives here. Three examples come to mind: 1. A teen once confided that she was confused about her sexuality. She wanted my advice. I knew this teen to be from a liberal church in our diocese. I am conservative. I asked her what her parents thought. Bottom line: I was forced to choose between what her parents and priest were telling her about her sexual identity or I could tell her the truth according to Scripture. 2. I was a parent in a liberal diocese, and my children wanted to go to our church camp. Unfortunately, I knew that what they would talk about human sexuality for a particular point of view at a time when I needed support as a parent for them to buck the cultural acceptance, not talk about sexuality as if both anything is a legitimate choice. 3. I had a woman call me saying she just realized she was gay and the Lord was telling her to divorce her husband in order to be more authentic. Agreeing to disagree assumes that both answers are legitimate choices. We owe real people the truth. Even if they reject it, perhaps they will later see the futility of untruth.

  18. Bob Trube says:

    What is fascinating to me is that this is a largely White, Western discussion. In most other parts of the world, there is no question what the teaching of scripture is. Why are Christians in the West not listening both to the testimony of the saints who have gone before us, and to our brothers and sisters in the rest of the global church? How can we confess to believe in ‘the communion of the saints’ when we treat the saints in the rest of the world as poor benighted brethren or ignore them all together. Do they not also have the Word and the Spirit? It seems that, for example, African Anglicans have saved the Anglican Church from apostasy. And in our concerns for “compassion”, where is the compassion toward our fellow believers whose testimony before rival religions is undermined by Western sexual ethics that the opponents of Christianity would label blatant immorality?

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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