The Story: The trustees of Calvin University voted to keep faculty who reject the Bible’s clear teachings on what constitutes sexual immorality. Will the denomination step in, or will they allow the school to embrace heretical views?
The Background: The board of trustees at Calvin University recently voted to allow a group of faculty members to dissent from a clause in a confession of faith that regards sex outside of heterosexual marriage as sinful.
As the Religion News Service notes, a number of faculty members submitted statements of confessional difficulties, and the board voted to accept these. This means they remain in good standing at Calvin University. The school in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is wholly owned by the Christian Reformed Church in North America (CRC), a Dutch Calvinist denomination of about 200,000 members. The number and names of the faculty who dissented haven’t been released, as the school says this information is confidential.
Faculty hired by Calvin University must sign a document saying their beliefs align with a set of historical Christian creeds and confessions, including the Nicene Creed, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort. The faculty handbook also notes that professors must “teach, speak, and write in harmony with the confessions.”
In 2016, the CRC appointed a study committee to articulate a foundation-laying biblical theology of human sexuality. In 2021, the committee released its report, which thoroughly explains what the Bible teaches about sexuality and what Scripture considers to be “sexual immorality.” (For more on this, see Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra’s article “The Christian Reformed Church Corrects Course.”)
The report also points out that the prohibition against sexual immorality already had confessional status within the denomination:
According to our confessions, the church may never approve or even tolerate any form of sexual immorality, including pornography, polyamory, premarital sex, extramarital sex, adultery, or homosexual sex. On the contrary, the church must warn its members that those who refuse to repent of these sins—as well as of idolatry, greed, and other such sins—will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9–11). It must discipline those who refuse to repent of such sins for the sake of their souls (1 Cor. 5–6).
The board of trustees at Calvin University is revising professors’ guidelines to make this accommodation for an unbiblical view of sexuality in a way that they claim “respects the authority of the denomination.” The revised guidelines are expected in the next few weeks.
What It Means: Love compels the church to discipline Christians who advocate, engage in, promote, and tolerate sin. We also have a duty to protect against heresy being taught in our institutions. And teaching people they can embrace sexual immorality and yet still inherit the kingdom of God is a clear example of heresy.
We can become a disciple of Christ without any knowledge of what God says about sexual morality. But when we’re made aware of the biblical command to “flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18) and learn how that includes engaging in any form of sex outside marriage (Matt. 19:4–5), we have an obligation as followers of Christ to obey God’s Word.
As Jesus says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). The implication is that if we don’t obey, then we don’t truly believe. Indeed, Jesus makes it clear that if you don’t obey his commands, you don’t even love him (John 14:15).
Based on Jesus’s words, we cannot love him and say it’s morally acceptable to commit sexual immorality—much less teach this in a Christian university. We cannot love Jesus and say committing adultery, consuming pornography, engaging in homosexual relations, or engaging in sex as an unmarried person is a matter of “academic freedom” that Christians can disagree on.
As the CRC rightly points out in their report, we discipline “for the sake of their souls.” But discipline requires courage and adherence to orthodoxy, and both qualities are often difficult to find in institutions that fear being out of step with the surrounding secular culture.
The board of trustees at Calvin University has given us a prime example. The board knows what the Bible requires of them. They know they have an obligation as followers of Christ to discipline those who hold to and promote the heretical teaching affirming sexual immorality. Their duty was straightforward, for they merely had to uphold the confessional position promoted by their denomination for 165 years, which has been the orthodox Christian position for more than 2,000 years. However, instead of fulfilling their duties to God, their institution, and the denomination that gave them their trust, they voted to allow an undisclosed number of faculty members who reject the authority of Scripture.
Unfortunately, the board has also adopted a stance of inconsistency and incoherence.
According to the article in Religion News Service, “The university . . . does not allow students to engage in premarital sex and defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Those rules will not change, a spokesperson for the university said.” Why are they saying students can’t believe what the professors are allowed to believe? If the university is saying there’s nothing wrong with saying premarital sex is licit, then why prohibit students from engaging in such behavior? Either it’s sexually immoral or it isn’t. There cannot be one intellectual standard for teachers and another for their pupils.
Bruce Los, chairman of the Calvin board, also said the university benefits from having “diverse viewpoints among its faculty while remaining committed to upholding the confessional standards of the CRC.” But the college is not upholding the confessional standards of the CRC. The confessional standards of the CRC are clear, which is why the faculty needed an exemption. What’s also clear is that many faculty reject those standards, and Los and the board refuse to uphold them. He and the board have abused the power entrusted to them by determining for themselves which parts of the confessions are required and which can be reinterpreted in opposition to the denomination that owns the university.
Los is also willing to allow heretical views as “diverse viewpoints.” What else will his school allow next? If the university is willing to tolerate a form of syncretism that combines sexual immorality and Christian orthodoxy, what viewpoints will not be allowed? Will professors be allowed to promote astrology or reincarnation since those are also popular diverse viewpoints held by those who call themselves Christian? Which types of heresy are the board of Calvin University willing to say go too far?
The history of the church in America has shown where such unbiblical compromise leads. The “Reformed” mainline churches claimed to revere Calvin and Luther and yet discarded the biblical views and standards of those original reformers. By discarding the biblical definition of “sexual immorality,” Calvin University is setting itself on a similar path as the mainline denominations, trading short-term cultural acceptance for eternal condemnation.
Will anyone save the school from the trustees and faculty members who have abandoned orthodoxy? Will the CRC have the courage to rescue its flagship school from those who have abandoned God’s Word? If they do, the small but venerable denomination can help prove a decline into heresy isn’t the inevitable path for our Christian institutions of higher learning.