Why Is This Issue Different?

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I don’t relish writing about the same thing over and over (especially in light of World Vision’s stunning and humble reversal of their two day-old hiring policy). Believe me, if there were never the need to talk about homosexuality again, no one would cheer louder than me. But that’s not the world we live in. So here’s one more post.

I received an email yesterday afternoon to this effect: Could someone please give a short, simple explanation as to why the issue of homosexuality is not like Christians differing on baptism or the millennium? Many Christians are willing to say homosexuality is wrong, but they’d rather not argue about it. Why not broker an “agree to disagree” compromise? Why can’t we be “together for the gospel” despite our differing views on gay marriage? Why is this issue any different?

1. Approving of homosexual behavior violates the catholicity of the church. Sure, many in the West are arguing for the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, but for 99.9% of our history the church has considered homosexual behavior to be sinful. (And before anyone mentions slavery at this point I would encourage him to read Rodney Stark’s book For the Glory of God where he debunks the myth that the church was pro-slavery for 1800 years.) No one had to write a confession about homosexuality, because it was an implied status confessionis issue. No church would have tolerated a difference of opinion, let alone a deviant practice.

True, church tradition is not infallible. But when we make a decision (accepting homosexuality or tolerating those who do) that virtually every single Christian who has ever lived would consider unthinkable, we ought to pause and wonder if we’ve drunk too much from the spirit of the age. We would be wiser to listen to the testimony of our brothers and sisters in the two-thirds world who know that homosexuality is not an agree-to-disagree kind of issue.

2. Homosexual behavior is so repeatedly and clearly forbidden in Scripture that to encourage homosexuality calls into question the role of Scripture in the life of the denomination that accepts such blatantly unbiblical teaching. The order of creation informs us that God’s plan for sexuality is one woman and one man (Genesis 2). This order is reaffirmed by Jesus (Matthew 19) and Paul (Ephesians 5). The Old Testament law forbade homosexual behavior (Leviticus 18, 20). Paul reiterates this prohibition by using the same Greek construction in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1. Paul condemns same sex behavior (among many other sins) in Romans 1. Jude in his epistle links sexual immorality and the “unnatural desire” present in Sodom and Gomorrah.

The evidence is so overwhelming that Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament scholar and advocate of legitimizing homosexual behavior, argues rather candidly: “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.” At its root, support for homosexual behavior is not simply a different interpretation of Scripture; it is a rejection of Scripture itself.

3. Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser “ethical issue”, the New Testament sees it as a matter for discipline (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Corinthians 6:12-20), and an example of perverse compromise (Jude 3-16).

4. Most importantly, commending homosexuality involves the core of the gospel because it urges us to celebrate a behavior of which the Bible calls us to repent. According to 1 Corinthians 6 unrepentant homosexuals (along with unrepentant thieves, drunkards, idolaters, adulterers, revilers, swindlers, and money-lovers) will not inherit the kingdom of God. Heaven and hell literally hang in the balance.

Of course, homosexuality isn’t the only sin in the world. But I know of no Christian leader or Christian community promoting theft or championing idolatry as a special blessing from God. It is not an overstatement to say solemnizing same-sex intercourse is in danger of leading people to hell. The same is not true when it comes to sorting out the millennium.  In tolerating the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people farther from God, not closer. This is not the mission Jesus gave us when he told us to teach the nations all that he has commanded.

In short, those who pervert the grace of God into a license for sensuality are false teachers who do not preach the gospel rightly (Jude 4; Titus 2:11-15). A true church does not encourage people in deliberate sin when it ought to call them to repentance.

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