Homosexuals in the Church: Keep Reading in Ephesians
The progressive wing of evangelicalism seems to be ramping up its demand that Bible-believing churches accept homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. An example is a recent video from Nadia Bolz-Weber titled "I Am the Church." The video parades young men and women who briefly state why they come to church, identify themselves with one of the LGBTQ nomenclatures, and insist that they be accepted as Christians. The basic message is, "I am a homosexual Christian and I am not an issue." Of course, the whole point of the video is to make their sexuality an issue and demand acceptance from Christians whose consciences forbid it. The highlight comes at the end, when Bolz-Weber reads from Ephesians 2:14-15 as sealing the issue: "For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility."
Before giving reasons why this kind of presentation is not persuasive to Christians who disagree, let me say that I am personally touched by all sincere professions of faith in the grace of Jesus Christ. The first man in the video speaks of receiving grace and forgiveness in the gospel, and I do not look on him only as a "queer," as he put it, but as a sinner who like me has a wide range of spiritual needs that are met in Jesus Christ. I praise the Lord for that. A woman named Kathleen rejoices that "I don't have to do anything that makes me worthy or deserving." Sinners of all varieties rejoice in the same mercy as we come to God in Christ. As much as I know that these men and women are being spotlighted to advocate a single issue, I know they are people whose identity far transcends the matter of their sexuality and that Jesus truly is the Savior for all who come to him in faith.
Yet there are vital concerns that I cannot brush aside, given my obligation as a Christian to be faithful to Christ and as a pastor to uphold the Word of God. Let me therefore respond to the video with three critiques. They are: 1) Not all divisons are the same; 2) the gospel includes life transformation in a holy direction; and 3) being the Body of Christ involves moral obligations:
1. Not all divisions are the same. When Paul spoke of "the dividing wall" in the Ephesians passage cited by Bolz-Weber, he was referring to the divide between Jews and Gentiles. Christ tore down an ethnic/cultural divide, the point being that hostile people are made one as they are all brought near to God through the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13-16). While homosexuality clearly involves a sub-culture in America, it is also defined by the Bible in moral terms. The issue, then, is not whether Bible-believing Christians can accept people from a different sociological sub-culture - we can and indeed are eager to do so - but whether we can accept moral behavior that is specifically condemned in the Bible. This is why I ask that Nadia Bolz-Weber continue reading in Ephesians. In Ephesians 5:5 she will find Paul writing: "For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God." Comparison with other passages, like 1 Corinthians 6:9 removes any doubt that Paul is including homosexuality and its related sexual deviations. Therefore, while we would earnestly agree that ethnicity and race are embraced by the unity of the body of Christ, we cannot admit that sexual behavior should be treated in the same way. Here is the issue that will not go away for Bible-believing Christians, however much pressure is applied to us: the Bible forbids that Christians be homosexuals. Therefore we cannot agree to the category of Homosexual Christian.
2. The gospel includes life transformation in a holy direction. One assertion made in the video was that being Christian means that we don't have to change. This is a simple denial of the gospel, which includes not only forgiveness but also sanctification. The good news is both Christ's forgiveness of sin and Christ's conquest of sin in the believer's life. With this in mind, we see that the demand to accept homosexuals as Christians is allied to the antinomian tendencies rife in evangelicalism today. One woman in the video said, "To imply that I need to change is to imply that I know better than God what God has planned for my life." She fails to note that the Bible tells her what God has planned for our lives, especially including our moral transformation. It was with sexual purity specifically in mind that the apostle Paul wrote, "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality" (1 Thess. 4:3). To say that my Christianity does not place demands on my sexuality is simply to deny the Lordship of Jesus Christ over one of the most integral matters of life. Whatever the matter may be, whether our sexuality, our use of money, or the way that we treat people at work, Christ is Lord and he does insist that we change, even as he clothes us in his righteousness and empowers us by the Holy Spirit. Here again, the root issue is our submission to the Scriptures as God's Word. We can plead that changing sexuality means implying "that I know better than God," but when the Bible has spoken clearly to a given matter then faith obligates us to pursue change by the grace that God gives.
3. Being the Body of Christ involves moral obligations. This was probably the most striking issue for me in watching the video. A man named Jim declares, "I am the church regardless of my sexuality." Yet according to the Bible, it is specifically because Christians are the Body of Christ that we must be holy. Speaking specifically about sexual indecency, and writing to believers awash in a sexually-perverse culture, Paul made the urgent plea that being the body of Christ requires us to be pure: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" (1 Cor. 6:15); "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (1 Cor. 6:19-20). The specific matter there was adultery with a prostitute, but all sexual purity is implied, including the Bible's prohibition of homosexuality.
I am very sorry that in this video, these men and women are made into the very "issue" they claim to resent. In fact, they are not "an issue" to me but infinitely valuable people whose relationship to Christ has eternal implications. Yet care for them as people and concern for their sense of welcome in our churches cannot override our commitment to the plain teaching of God in his Word. However many testimonies we are shown demanding that we yield, we must instead embrace the Bible's teaching. With this in mind, let me conclude with two comments specifically directed to any of the men or women in the video who may be reading this, or other readers who share their sexual orientation.
First, believing in Jesus means believing in all of his Word, which speaks clearly and unavoidably about the sinfulness of homosexuality. I know that there are scholars who assert that it does not, but Bible-believing churches in general are not persuaded. This is the issue. Rather than demanding that we relent in what we are convinced is a matter of faith and obedience to Christ, we would urge you charitably to consider the reasons why we hold to the Bible's teaching on this matter. There has been good discussion on the question of the Bible's actual teaching regarding homosexuality and this is where the focus should be given. I would recommend these two articles -- here and here -- and this book.
Second, there is a great difference between a broken despair over sin and a defiant demand for sin to be accepted. Christians are all sinners who are unworthy of God's love, but who find forgiveness in his grace along with power to change. If you say, "I am really broken, confused, and hurting. I embrace all that Jesus offers and demands, including a moral change that I could not do on my own. I need your love, prayer, and help," you will find a compassionate embrace by your straight Bible-believing Christian friends. But if you say, "I demand that you accept my commitment to what the Bible declares to be sin," then our declining to agree is not a matter of hate towards you but of love towards Christ and his Word. It is also, we believe, a way of showing love to you, since as Paul said to those who continue reading further in Ephesians, "speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph. 4:15).
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