Results tagged “Cultural ethics” from Reformation21 Blog

1 Corinthians 14:34: Did God Really Say...?

|

While a student, I came across an article by Latin American theologian Elsa Tamez titled, "Women Must Not be Silent in the Congregations!"--in which she argued that Paul gave apostolic instruction about how women should exercise the gift of prophecy in the church in 1 Corinthians 11, while rejecting the idea that the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 14:34. In the latter passage, Paul exhorts Christian women to refrain from teaching or preaching in the context of public worship services. You can understand how shocking it is to hear ministers in Evangelical and Calvinistic denominations now suggesting that a combined reading of 1 Corinthians 11 and 1 Corinthians 14:34 teaches us that "Women do not have to be silent in the congregations" except during a time of "judging of the prophecies."

Much of what leads to this sort of re-reading of 1 Corinthians 14 is driven by a desire for cultural adaptation. The rationale is as follows: women in our societies are strong and successful, competent and competitive. Why shouldn't they also be leading in every respect in the church? This way of re-reading the Scripture will almost certainly cause serious harm down the line when our children begin to read other passages of Scripture in a similar way under the pressure of society. While it may seem like a secondary issue now, introducing novelty into an attempt to reinterpret a passage like 1 Corinthians 14:34 will cause significant problems with primary issues sooner or later.

In order to keep the peace and purity of the church, it is important to recognize that there are will always be different interpretations of certain passages of Scripture. We must accept the fact that all the pastors in one denomination will never read all biblical passages in precisely the same way. A brief consideration of differences among commentators, who served in the same denominations throughout church history, will also support that conclusion. In that regard, we must discern whether the discrepancy is over an essential or non-essential matter for the church or to use Calvin's distinction between essential, important or indifferent.

For example, the doctrine of Christology is is non-negotiable to us, while the discrepancy concerning the frequency of the Lord's Supper is of less importance. There is no point in raising a concern regarding a disagreement over an issue that is non-essential. However, there can be a time when the discussion of a secondary or negotiable topic may warrant serious concern.

A revisionist reading of 1 Corinthians 14:34 suggests that--when Paul says that women should keep silent--he does not mean silent in the whole public worship, but only silent during specific times; namely, during the judging of prophecies. To be fair, this interpretation is not something that has suddenly sprung up. It has increasingly become more prevalent over the past century. It is not only a problem in one denomination. This interpretation is becoming more and more accepted and less and less questioned, as solid scholars such as D.A. Carson and William Kistemaker have supported it. Nevertheless, this is a relatively new way to solve the interpretative tension in this passage.

In 1 Cor. 11:5 Paul says "every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head..." and in 1 Cor. 14:34 he adds "the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak..." Why does Paul speak of women prophesying in 1 Corinthians 11, while in 1 Corinthians 14, he forbids them to speak? How should we reconcile these two passages?

The literature on the solution of this apparent contradiction is vast and unending as there have been many attempts to reconcile these passages through the history of interpretation. We can summarize for our purposes four solutions to this apparently contradiction. One interpretation maintains that there are two kinds of worship: informal (chapter 11) and formal (chapter 14). We may refer to this as the "different context solution." Another interpretation proposes that in 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul was describing (not affirming or commending) that women prophesy; and, that he was just delaying the moment in which he would forbid it later on, in 1 Corinthians 14. We may call this the "delaying of condemnation solution." A third interpretation is that Paul was speaking of exceptions in chapter 11. This may be called "the extraordinary situations solution." A fourth, and final, interpretation is the proposal that in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul is stating that women should be silent only at the time of the judging (testing) of the prophecies. We may refer to this as the "judging of prophecies solution." All are agreed that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:34, was not forbidding women to make any utterance at church. From the early church onward, all have understood that the prohibition was about women speaking publicly and officially during worship.

The Different Context Solution

This "different context solution" proposes that in 1 Corinthians 11, women pray and prophesy during private or informal worship in which everyone participated. In chapter 14, the setting is more formal and structured worship services. It may be comparable to the synagogue worship in the days of Christ and the disciples (Luke 4; Acts 13). Some have suggested that the meetings in 1 Cor. 11:5 were private meetings that were only attended by women. This is a classical and traditional distinction that I believe our churches should value.  This distinction was taught by Origin (ca. AD 185-254), Chrysostom, Aquinas, Nicholas of Lyra, Denis de Carthusian, Cardinal Cajetan, and Claude Guilliaud. According to John Thompson, Calvin also held to this solution to the meaning of the two passages. However, at other times Calvin seemed inclined toward the "delaying of condemnation solution" as well. In Calvin's exposition of Acts and 1 Cor. 11:5, he suggested that Priscilla and Phillip's daughters would have exercised their gifts in this way "at home, or in a private place outside the public meeting."

Charles Hodge says that Paul "takes for granted, in 11:5, that women may receive and exercise the gift of prophecy. It is therefore only the public exercising of the gift that is prohibited." B.B. Warfield's explanation of the word "laleo" helps this interpretation, especially in light of the context of the passage. In 1 Cor. 11:5 there is nothing said about church in the context. The word church does not occur until verse 16. Chapter 14 is referring to the whole ekklesia (verse 4, 5, 12, 16, 19, 23, 26ff, 33). As R.C.H. Lenski affirmed, from 11:17 until the end of chapter 14, Paul is dealing with gatherings of the congregation for public worship. We should not depart from the simple and natural meaning of the text. Further, 1 Corinthians 11:5 should be understood in the light of the clear and emphatic nature of 1 Tim. 2:1ff and 1 Cor. 14:33ff.

Some critics of this position say that the separation between private and public is anachronistic. However, it seems evident in Acts 18 that this contrast shaped the mind and practice of the church of the New Testament as they initially gathered in the Synagogue. At least in our topic, there is a clear circumstance in which Priscila and Aquila took Apollos aside privately, and more accurately explained to him the way of God.

Many who dismiss the "different context solution" explain that it does not adequately reconcile 1 Corinthians 14:26 (where Paul seems to encourage the participation of men and women in worship) with verse 35 of the same chapter (where Paul seems to discourage women's participation).  However, this is a false conflict. In 1 Corinthians 14:26 it could just as easily be understood that Paul was not addressing women in this text. Why? Because he mentioned "teaching" [διδαχὴν] in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and there is no place in 1 Corinthians where teaching is opened for women in the context of worship. That is the reason why 1 Corinthians 14:34 says "your women."

The Delaying of Condemnation Solution

The "delaying of condemnation solution" establishes that in 1 Corinthians 11:5, Paul is not "expecting" women to prophesy as some interpreters today assume. He is simply correcting the church of Corinth in a progressive way. As already noted, at times John Calvin favored this solution. Charles Hodge also held to it. Other noteworthy exegetes, such as Henry Alford, De Wett (1780-1849), A.R. Fausset, Thomas C. Edwards, and JJ Lias commended this interpretive solution.

Frederic Godet drew attention to the fact that Paul delays various corrections throughout his epistles. He does so in regards to the lawsuits in 1 Cor. 6:4, which lay down a simple restriction; in verse 7 he condemns them altogether. Also with regards to participation of Christians in idolatrous feasts, 8:10 seems to allow it; however, Paul then forbids it absolutely in 10:21-22.

The Extraordinary Situations Solution

Another proposed solution is that in 1 Corinthians 11 Paul is talking about public prophetesses who were using extraordinary gifts in extraordinary circumstances in the birth of neo-testamentarian communities. However, in 1 Corinthians 14 Paul is speaking of a regular and general principle to be kept by the church. This solution seems to have been advocated by Francois Lambert, Martin Luther, and Peter Martyr Vermigli. John Thompson explains that this solution met the practical needs of the Reformation era. He writes, "God raises up women prophets specially when the church is in disarray...sometimes to shame men, but sometimes just because there is no man around who can do the job." Of course, these interpreters believed that prophecy was no longer a gift continuing in the church today. However, the objectives of prophecy may continue in the work of teaching and preaching in the church. They were not in favor of women taking the role of teaching or preaching, but they were aware of some exceptions that may have happened in extraordinary circumstances. The advocates of this solution never promoted preaching or proclamation as a regular function of women in the church, "but some in the era of the Reformation went so far as to authorize women's temporary ministry on the grounds of necessity..." In my studies, I have not found this position advocated in any documents in the post-reformation era. However, the principle of contrast between ordinary and extra-ordinary times is present in the "Form of Presbyterian Government" of the Westminster Assembly. There it is far from authorizing women to teach, but establishes that "In extraordinary cases, something extraordinary may be done, until a settled order may be had, yet keeping as near as possibly may be to the rule."

It is remarkable that during the Reformation era this debate was in the context of the need for teachers of God's word. By contrast, at least in my experience, here in America the discussion of the Role of Women arises in the context of the "successful" women in the marketplace that can be used in the church.

The three alternatives presented above are considered the historical options. They advocate that women are not allowed to engage in any public speaking during public worship--the third option, however, granting exceptions in extraordinary circumstances. Throughout history, these have been the main interpretations for reconciling the teaching of 1 Cor. 11 and 1 Cor. 14. It is not until interpreters sought a way to accommodate cultural expectations that proposals for women leading in worship led on to novel revisions and re-readings of these passages.

The Judging of Prophecies Solution

According to some the "judging of prophecies solution" is consistent with the structure of the passage. Many follow Kistemaker when he says that there are three restrictions in the passage. First, Paul encourages speaking in tongues but restricts it to a limited number of people. Second, Paul encourages prophecy but limits the number of prophets and requires order so others can judge. Third, Paul adds an additional restriction that the ones judging prophecies must be male (apostle or elders)--clarifying that women should not speak duringthis specific time.

Proponents of this solution insist that σιγάτω rarely means total speechlessness. No serious theologian of the past would have exegeted this passage in this way. As noted already, John Lightfoot, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians (using the Talmud and other Judaic sources), says that "it was allowed them [the women] to answer Amen with others, and to sing with the church; but to speak any thing by themselves, it was forbidden them."

The "judging of prophecies solution" faces the following insurmountable problems:

  1. Why did Paul choose to specifically address only women to be silent during this time of evaluation of the prophecies, instead of just stating in general that non-apostles or non-leaders should be silent?
  2. The silence instructed during tongues and prophecies is a particular silence directed to individuals. Paul employs the singular form. However, the silence for women is general, as indicated by Paul's use of the plural form.
  3. If the Apostle wished to limit the silence only to the time of judging of prophecies, why did he use the word "learn" instead of "judge" for the intention of women?
  4. Why have exegetes, prior to the late-20th Century, not favored this opinion?

Concerning this last point, Michael Marlowe has tracked the history of this interpretation back to its origination by Margaret E. Thrall in 1965. Thrall was a remarkable Pauline scholar and became one of the first women to be ordained in the Church in Wales. Later, in 1981, James B. Hurley, professor at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, promoted Thrall's interpretation. The same position was adopted in 1982 by Wayne Grudem and defended by D.A. Carson in 1991. In addition, in 1993 the great commentator Simon J. Kistemaker adopted a similar view stating that he follows Grudem, Carson, and Hurley in that regard. Finally, this Anthony Thiselton advanced this proposal in 2000. We are now at the point that it is becoming a more and more accepted proposal to restrict the teaching of the Apostle to forbid women to speak in public worship.

Why is this important?

While we wish to avoid a fallacious appeal to the slippery slope argument, adopting the "judging of prophecies" solution will have an impact on the application of these passages to open doors for women preaching in otherwise conservative denominations.

The "judging of prophecies solution" implies that Paul allowed (and encouraged) women to prophesy in the worship service. This also implies that worship services or worship practices are divided in two: authoritative leading, and non-authoritative leading where women can address the congregation.

One could actually argue from the concept of prophecy itself that there may be some non-authoritative devotionals that women may deliver in public worship (prophecy) but they should not be allowed to deliver a sermon (judging of prophecies). I understand that many in conservative circles do not advocate for this today. For instance, even in the 1988 OPC Report on Women where they acknowledge this novel interpretation, they dismissed the possibility of a contemporary application of it because prophecy is an already-extinct gift in this post-apostolic era. Others made a distinction between prophecy and teaching. At any rate, we can say that this interpretation may serve to "normalize" many practices that are already taking place in numerous congregations--such as, women leading prayers of petitions, prayers of praise, secondary readings of the Scripture etc.

The problem comes when someone seeks to advance the "judging of prophecy solution" to allow women to give exhortations (short sermons) in worship. If Paul allowed women to prophesy in public worship as the "judging of prophecies solution" advocates, what would stop someone from saying that women today can do short devotionals during public worship to encourage, instruct, and teach [1 Co 14:3] the whole congregation in a non-authoritative way? What will prevent our conservative Reformed denominations from moving in the same direction as the Southern Baptist Convention seems to be moving? A number of years ago, I warned the General Assembly of my own denomination that the approval of this interpretation opens the door for women preaching in worship services and other practices forbidden by Scripture.

Beyond this, the problem with the "judging of prophecies" interpretation extends far beyond the issue of women participating in public worship. It forces us to read between the lines of what the Bible actually says. If Paul, under the inspiration of the Spirit, says that women should be silent in the public worship service--and we say, "only during a certain part of the service," then we are de factor making the Word of God say something other than what it actually says. I certainly am not advocating for a rejection of all possible solutions to interpretive difficulties. I do, however, believe that we should follow the humble attitude of the divines of Westminster, who--before affirming an interpretation--considered the history of exegesis of the texts. Unfortunately, at present, modern interpretations have come to be "normalized" to the point that centuries of exegetical and hermeneutical work is dismissed even by conservative theological professors.

I am optimistic that if we promote deep and irenic conversations that are centered around biblical fidelity, we may be able to create a strong culture of hermeneutics and exegesis in future ruling and teaching elders. Our children and those coming after us need us to engage in these conversations today.  I am open to listening to my brothers. I strongly believe after my own readings that the "judging of prophecies solution" to 1 Corinthians 14:34 is a novel interpretation that forces a meaning onto the text in order to remove any discomfort the apostolic prohibition brings to our modern ears.

Rev. William Castro is the Pastor of Emmanuel Upstate Church in Greenville, SC. He is originally from Peru. William served as an advisory member of the PCA Ad Interim Committee on Women Serving in the Ministry in the Church

Breaking from Breaking News

|

The category of breaking news has grabbed our eyes to report such matters as the latest celebrity gossip and the latest tweet of a politician. Though sometimes the breaking news is of tragedy (because tragedy sells) in some land far away or even some other state. A flood. A shooting. An injustice. An outrage.

As pastors and Christian leaders often the expectation is to have an opinion commentary about every event on the cable news, the top of the Drudge Report, or on our Facebook/Twitter feed.

We may think our situation is unique, but C.S. Lewis' comments from the last century sound unusually prescient on this phenomena. Though speaking of a newspaper, one could imagine him talking about information on a screen when he wrote in a letter to Dom Bede Griffiths:

"It is one of the evils of rapid diffusion of news that the sorrows of all the world come to us every morning."1

Why did C.S. Lewis see this as an "evil"? He continued:

"I think each village was meant to feel pity for its own sick and poor whom it can help and I doubt if it is the duty of any private person to fix his mind on ills which he cannot help. (This may even become an escape from the works of charity we really can do to those we know)."2

National and world news that is far away can often distract us from our local community, our neighbors and our family.

How much do we know of the problems of the local community that we could address? How many of us are coaches or school board members rather than congressmen? How much do we know of the burdens and sorrows of our neighbors? How much time have spent commenting on what may be genuine tragedies in the world thousands of miles away, that we have almost no ability to solve, compared to the neighbor who faces a terminal diagnosis, in body and soul, or the directionless high school graduate, or the desperate mother who would give untold riches for a bit of sleep? How much time do we spend on the questions of our children and spouse about what we are doing in their daily lives?

The difference between the local and national is also a matter of how well we fulfill our call to declare the gospel. In the few minutes it takes a fellow stay-at-home mom to help another mom get a nap, an opportunity to invite her to a local bible study presents itself. In the few dollars for lunch from a church elder to talk about the future of a high schooler, comes an opportunity to talk about vocation and the work that builds into eternity. To be the listening ear of a neighbor to the fears of an immortal soul in a mortal body, an opportunity to refer to the one who conquered death is near. Our local sorrows present us with a chance to speak eternity into a world of vapor, that is passing away in a way national and global ones do not.

In being distracted by the breaking news and sorrows of the day, Lewis concludes, is a problem with virtue-signaling. Well, he didn't say that, but he did comment:

"A great many people...do now seem to think that the mere state of being worried is in itself meritorious. I don't think it is. We must, if it so happens, give our lives for others: but even while we're doing it, I think we're meant to enjoy Our Lord and, in Him, our friends, our food, our sleep, our jokes, and the birds song and the frosty sunrise."3

Which is more important to us, to be seen as virtuous in being outraged or grieved at the right news events, or to point to the virtue of our Savior and enjoy His blessings? It seems particularly relevant that when Jesus was asked about current events in His day, He turned the conversation around to be personal and eternal: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:2-5)

Brothers, we are not called to be news pundits. We are called to heralds and witnesses. Our best service is not commentary on the news of the day. We are not failures if we do not have a "hot take" or "worldview analysis" for each news item. But we are failures if we fail to speak of the good news that transcends our trivial present, and extends to eternity. In that, we can do more than worry and be in sorrow: We can glorify and enjoy our God. Don't let the breaking news of the day be an excuse to neglect the good news and our neighbor who needs to hear it.

 

1. C. S. Lewis, The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, ed. Walter Hooper, vol. 2 (New York: HarperCollins e-books; HarperSanFrancisco, 2004-2007), 747-748.

2. Ibid., p. 748

3. Ibid.


Rev. Jared Nelson is the pastor of New Life Presbyterian (PCA) in Aliquippa, PA.

Christians in the Cultural Closet

|

Our society celebrates the openness with which it accepts homosexuality and transgenderism. It contrasts our present enlightened times with past eras when what are now called "sexual minorities," LGBTQers, were once consigned to the closets, forced to keep their "sexual identity" hidden. Now those who identify according to their sexual and gender preferences are "out of the closets" and have been mainstreamed. They have a place at the table. They have been normalized. Thus, the narrative is that we have a more just, fair, and open society. Except the closets remain. There always are closets. Every society ancient and modern has closets. What changes are those who inhabit the closets. Gradually we are witnessing traditional, orthodox Christians being forced into the closets even as the sexual minorities move out.

Let me explain. Why do people take to hiding in society's closets? They are shamed into them. Once upon a time society strongly disapproved of sodomy and associated sexual sins. If one admitted one was homosexual, or was "outed" by another, one's political future was over, or one's career was ruined, and one was shunned by society. As recently as 1997 when Ellen DeGeneres "came out," her show, "Ellen" was cancelled. Homosexual characters were not portrayed positively until the mid-1980's and 1990's and even then it happened infrequently. Gradually homosexuality came to be accepted in the mainstream media and normalized. Out of the closet they came, culminating in the Supreme Court's Obergefell decision mandating the legalization of gay "marriage" in all 50 states.

What becomes of those who on moral grounds disapprove of homosexuality? They are slowly being shunned into silence. Their views are being forced into the closet. Recently Senator Joe Biden called Vice President Pence "a decent guy." A furious backlash resulted. Cynthia Nixon, an actress and liberal activist responded, "You've just called America's most anti- LGBTQ elected leader a 'decent guy.' Please consider this falls on the ears of our community." Biden immediately retracted his comment and agreed with her. "There is nothing decent about being anti-LGBTQ rights," Biden responded, "and that includes the vice president." Then there was the response to the news that Mrs. Pence returned to a part-time job teaching at a Christian school. Like all Christian schools, it holds to Christian moral standards that have been around for 2000 years. The response was outrage. The propriety of a spouse of a public official teaching in a school that perpetrates ignorance, hate and bigotry was called into question. Then there was the Covington Catholic High School's participation in the Right to Life march on January 18. The list could go on, but you can see the point. The message that society is sending will not be lost on conservative Christians: your views are no longer acceptable in polite company. Express them, and you will be loudly denounced and shamed. If you hold them, better keep them to yourself.

The transition is not yet complete, but it continues apace. Some pushback is still visible. Yet of the major media outlets (NBC, CNBC, MSNBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, FOX, NPR, ESPN, etc.) only one still gives voice to traditional views. The consensus is clear: light is now darkness, and darkness light. All right-thinking people agree. The call is not "Christians to the lions" as it was in ancient times. We mustn't overstate the case. Yet make no mistake about it, the call is "Christians to the closets." We are not being melodramatic, rather making a rational assessment. Our society is now more "open" than it was in the dark ages of the 1950's. Except it isn't. It still has its closets. It merely has changed the groups which it pushes into them.

Nearly every morning, I listen to Al Mohler's "The Briefing." His ability to synthesize and evaluate current cultural and political events is nothing short of remarkable. One of the aspects of his approach that I most appreciate is his ability to assess the news dispassionately. He'll relate some appalling new anti-Christian development with a neutral introduction like, "This is where it gets interesting..." He then calmly and irrefutably dismantles the presuppositions and outlook of the sexual revolutionaries. He is a brave man. We need more brave men to do what? Coolly, reasonably, persuasively refuse to be confined to the closets.

The Rhetoric of An Affirming Non-Ministry

|

Last week in St. Louis, representatives of the United Methodist Church from around the world gathered together for a special session of their General Conference. The delegates to the meeting collectively represented over 12 million church members, worldwide.

Called for the purpose of considering a Commission on a Way Forward report, which evaluates the church's official stance on human sexuality (and, by implication, its qualifications for ministry), the General Conference voted to uphold its current standards. Not only does this move maintain the denomination's stand upon God's Word, declaring that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," but it also represents a setback for the progressive agenda to normalize homosexual practice across the denomination.

This development in a denomination the size of the UMC is remarkable. The General Conference's decision to adopt the so-called Traditional Plan goes against recent trends in Mainline Protestantism (and Evangelicalism). The surprising result of the meeting will go down in history as a moment when the church in the "global South" chose biblical teaching over Western progressivism. Many observers anticipate a fragmentation to occur in coming months/years. As Mark Tooley (President, Institute on Religion and Democracy) wrote this weekend, traditionalists in the church wondered, "How long would their traditional beliefs be tolerated by United Methodists who view support for historical Christian sexual standards as morally equivalent to white supremacy?" Even mainstream news sources like the Washington Post, the New York Times, the Atlantic, and network news stations are dedicating attention to the General Conference and its outcome.

Though each of the items in the last paragraph is worthy of deeper exploration on its own, the piece of the 2019 UMC General Conference puzzle that has attracted my attention is the progressive party's use of language (hinted at by Tooley), especially by ordained ministers in the church.

What these men and women have given to us are examples of what I am calling "the rhetoric of an affirming non-ministry." In so doing, I want to intentionally hearken back to eighteenth-century American Presbyterian minister Gilbert Tennant, who blasted his non-revivalistic contemporaries in an infamous sermon entitled The Dangers of an Unconverted Ministry.  

Consider some of the progressive UMC delegates' statements regarding the vote to uphold the church's condemnation of homosexual acts:

  • Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe (General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society) described the decision as "punitive," inflicting "unbearable pain" upon the church. She lamented, "The wound may one day be healed by the grace of God... but the scar left behind will be visible forever." Elsewhere, she is cited as saying, "The United Methodist Church's special General Conference failed Tuesday to love LGBTQIA people, recognize their gifts in the church, maintain our unity in the midst of diversity, and to live out our Gospel mandate to seek justice and pursue peace."
  • A pro-inclusion delegate from Oklahoma fumed, "I am a 32-year-old, and I am one of the youngest delegates here. For a denomination who claims so desperately to want young people in our churches, maybe we need to reevaluate.... This body is not where the disciple making happens. Thank the good Lord, am I right?"
  • One response on Twitter bemoaned the decision, "This is devastating. Above all, the United Methodist Church is supposed to be a place of grace and service, not this bigotry and hate. My heart is broken into a thousand pieces."
  • Rev. Will Green (Associate Pastor, Foundry UMC in Washington) reflected on the decision, "The church had the opportunity to affirm the blessing of same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ people. Delegates could have rid the language that forced me from my home and charted a path for all queer people to fully experience God's grace as United Methodists. But they didn't. The United Methodist Church is today a more exclusionary, judgmental and queer-phobic denomination than it was when I preached Sunday from one of its pulpits. Not only has it not flung open its doors to queer people and those who love them. It also has closed and locked a door that was until this conference just barely cracked."
 

Consider what it is that has evoked such laments and deprecations. The denomination merely - if surprisingly - upheld its traditional stance on homosexual activity, and voted to strengthen its enforcement of standards that were already on the books. The denomination did not introduce a more conservative and fully biblical stance, such as a condemnation of same-sex attraction as inherently sinful.

It is safe to say that the responses listed above are examples of the rhetoric of an unconverted ministry. Voices in other ecclesiastical circles (both Evangelical and Roman Catholic) make similar statements in opposition to biblical standards of sexual ethics. Here are just a few instances:

  • Author and popular blogger Rachel Held Evans wrote over a decade ago An Evangelical's Apologyto the LGBTQ community, which included the statements, "I'm sorry that we have used the Bible as a weapon. I'm sorry that we have used religion to shame. I'm sorry that we have assumed we speak for God. Most of all, I am sorry that we haven't been Jesus to you."
  • After the 222nd General Assembly of the PCUSA, in which a motion to apologize to the LGBTQ community was rejected in favor of a "statement of regret" (which passed), one commentator and delegate to the Assembly wrote, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry we hurt you. I'm sorry we allowed people to say dehumanizing things about you on the floor of so many past assemblies. I'm sorry we refused to acknowledge your God-given gifts, and I'm sorry we refused to ordain you to ordered ministries. I'm sorry we forced you to leave communities you loved. I'm sorry we demanded that you choose between Jesus and your authentic self. I'm sorry that we used Scripture - the same Scripture that you held dear - as a weapon against you. I'm sorry we turned the beautiful gifts of human sexuality and gender identity into something shameful. I'm sorry we put you up for debate. I'm sorry you were referred to as an "issue". I'm so, so sorry."
  • Matthew Vines, author and Founding Executive Director of The Reformation Project, which promotes the normalization of homosexual relationships in the church, was quoted last year as saying, "We're on the front lines of a shift. I want to live in a world where no one experiences any pain or terror upon realizing that they're gay, bisexual, trans, or pansexual. That requires us to reach even those little churches in rural Texas. I do think it's possible to reach all those churches, eventually."
  • To consider a more traditionally conservative group beyond Evangelical Christianity, even Pope Francis said in 2016, "I believe that the church not only must say it's sorry ... to this person that is gay that it has offended. But it must say it's sorry to the poor, also, to mistreated women, to children forced to work. When I say the church: Christians. The church is holy. We are the sinners."
  • An Eastern Orthodox Twitter user describing himself/herself a "a celibate, partnered, gay Christian" aired frustrations after the 2018 Revoice Conference, including, "Many well-meaning conservatives frame my sexuality in terms of "struggle". My biggest "struggle" to this day is people who fail to listen to what I'm actually saying. I struggle with a Church which fails to love LGBT+ people well."
 

There is a reason that we do not frequently hear echoes of the rhetoric of Gilbert Tennant when those who profess Christ as Lord fall into error. We especially  are right to hesitate to judge too strongly the spiritual condition of those who are lawfully ordained to gospel ministry. However, the rhetoric of an unconverted ministry is more of a danger to the church today than the rhetoric of Gilbert Tennant ever was.

We must maintain as much (if not more) vigilance against the outrageous emotional appeals coming from progressive voices in the church as we do against the socially impolite voices of those who see themselves as defenders of "the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).  Is there any place for the language of "injury, offense, and pain inflicted upon LGBTQ friends and neighbors" in conservative Evangelicalism?

Where this language emerges in conservative Evangelical churches, the accusation is that the church is failing the LGBTQ community. For the United Methodists, the failure is in the church's refusal to bless homosexual activity within the ranks of the church. For conservative Evangelicals, the failure is the church's insistence upon understanding same-sex attraction to be sinful in and of itself (apart from any "acting upon" the attraction).

In both cases, the Scriptural witness is clear, and has been adequately developed elsewhere.1 However, the claim being made by both against the clear biblical witness is that harm is being done by the maintenance of a biblical standard on the respective issues.

If we are rightly to uphold biblical standards to the glory of God, and for the good of His people (some of whom have yet to enter into the sheepfold), it is crucially important that we do not fall into the trap of adopting the world's rhetoric. Nobody will be won for Christ, granted peace of conscience, or experience joy in the Holy Spirit as a result of the church's capitulation to the demands of the culture in its agenda or its rhetoric. Rather, the great task set before Christ's church is to proclaim His Word (Law and Gospel) without apology, expecting it to "cut to the heart" (Acts 2:37) and direct needy sinners to Christ.

Surely we can encourage our congregations to take seriously the call to sober-mindedness and solemnity in conversations about sex and sexuality, avoiding adolescent humor and expressions of cold-hearted ridicule. But we can do that while continuing to call out sin for what it is, proclaiming deliverance in Christ at every step of the way. Let us pursue greater faithfulness to our mandate, recognizing that such pursuit is not marked by compromise with and apology to the culture for perceived injuries, but by humble acknowledgment of the supremacy of Christ speaking in and through His Word.


1. Two good places to start are Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says About Sexual Orientation and Change by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert (P&R Publishing, 2015) and Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story by Christopher Yuan (Multnomah, 2018).