Earlier this year, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) surprised nearly everyone, not just outsiders. The denomination, which many believed had been drifting away from the authority of Scripture, corrected course and made clear the church’s conviction on sexual ethics.
The CRC’s clarification went even further than some observers expected. The group voted, as a clear majority, to make its position nonnegotiable. The traditional view of marriage and sexuality is the standard of the church’s teaching. There’s to be no deviation, which goes for institutions like Calvin University, even if some professors there seem to have moved toward the revisionist view of sexuality.
Trend in Institutions
The CRC is not the only denomination to tighten its doctrinal standards around sexuality rather than loosen them.
- The Global Methodist Church is in the process of breaking up with the United Methodist Church and will provide a worldwide home for Wesleyans who wish to maintain a faithful witness to God’s Word in the days ahead.
- The Anglican Communion is mired in conflict between a fast-shrinking, largely white, and increasingly elderly contingent that advocates for same-sex marriage and a fast-growing, largely black and brown, and increasingly young community of believers located in the global South that shuns the revisionist agenda. Several years ago, the Communion censured the American wing. Meanwhile, orthodox Anglicans around the world are finding new and creative ways of connection and partnership.
- The Presbyterian Church of America recently released a lengthy, brilliantly crafted document that reaffirms a biblical view of sex and marriage, even going so far as to provide avenues for evangelists and apologists to make a case for this position in an era shaped by the sexual revolution.
It’s not just denominations. Organizations have been tightening up their standards and clarifying their adherence to the biblical position.
- The CCCU (Council for Christian Colleges and Universities) added a statement about Christian distinctives and advocacy, which clarified their adherence to a biblical sexual ethic as a “core Christian commitment.”
- InterVarsity Christian Fellowship conducted a four-year process of study and then reiterated the organization’s stance through a nine-part curriculum for all employees.
- Fuller Seminary, Wheaton College, and Christianity Today have also, in recent years, reaffirmed their commitment to the historic view of marriage.
Powerful Pull of Progressivism’s Narrative
Still, the pull of progressivism’s narrative on this issue is remarkably powerful, giving the impression that the revisionist position is inevitable. It captures the imagination with its vision of moral “progress.” It’s only a matter of time before everyone agrees with the new view of sex and marriage! Get on board or get left behind. This is where the train of history is going.
On the day the CRC news came out, a pastor friend asked me if there was a growing tribe of “quietly affirming” churches and denominations across the country. Don’t miss the irony. The news article was about a denomination recommitting to biblical authority, and yet the notion of “progress” in the revisionist narrative was so strong that this pastor still wondered if everything is moving away from traditional Christianity, even when the evidence showed the opposite.
Protestant evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, and virtually every other church outside of a subset of shrinking churches in the West believe marriage touches foundational anthropological doctrines and will never be simply something we can “agree to disagree” on.
Still, the press surrounding the progressive position can make orthodox Christians feel defeated, deflated, and doomed—as if they’re in the minority now as far as churchgoing Christians are concerned, as if there’s no stopping the runaway revisionist train.
This narrative is powerful but false.
Worldwide and Historic Church
The truth is, we’ll likely see more churches and denominations adopt the revisionist view of sexuality, but over time, the bankruptcy of this position will be evident. The churches and denominations that have gone in this direction have cratered. Marriage is a load-bearing wall in the house. You can’t tear it down and keep the roof up. Marriage is a picture of the gospel. It’s central.
In The Thrill of Orthodoxy, I counter those who argue that marriage and sexuality aren’t matters of orthodoxy because they aren’t explicitly spelled out in the creeds. Neither is infanticide. Neither is theft. Neither is the command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Neither is a whole host of issues connected to Christianity’s moral vision. And yet few would argue that these and other unique and powerful elements of Christianity’s testimony are “optional,” to be taken or left depending upon societal preference. We must not think we can take shelter under a minimalist interpretation of the creeds so as to get out from under the Scriptures.
Still, some wonder: Will strong cultural winds lead to a growing tribe of churches that remain orthodox in their doctrinal stance though “affirming in practice”?
Possibly, but only for a time. At some point, a church has to decide whether to perform same-sex marriages. The halfway house can’t hold. You’ll go one way or another. And once you decide to become “affirming,” you become “apostate” to the vast majority of Christians in the rest of the world.
It’s easy to think the church is falling fast to revisionism on this issue, but only if your view is narrowly tailored to the American or Western European context. The question looks very different from the perspective of the worldwide church, as well as the church throughout history. When you adopt an innovation that would horrify basically every Christian theologian and leader and layperson in the past 2,000 years, the burden of proof is on you, not them.
The imaginative pull of the revisionist narrative on “the right side of history” is strong. But it’s imaginary. All that matters in the end is Jesus, and the words he said will never pass away.
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