The "Homosexuality Issue" as a Litmus-Test of Orthodoxy
In the past generation, as I have been taking time to write about (see “What is Liberalism?“), there was a great heresy which crept into the church, called Modernity, or Liberalism. Although such people had denied the need and even possibility of Christ’s work having any saving effect on humanity (thus, they had denied the essence of Christianity), such persons not only remained in church leadership, but lead a successful campaign to overtake most of the major seminaries (e.g. Princeton) and denominations (e.g. United, Anglican). It is not to say that genuine Christians do not exist within these seminaries and denominations – but from the top down, it is not the gospel of Christinity, but a “new gospel” of human positivism which is being preached as normative. The old, old story of sin and wrath and atonement and grace and proselytization is suppressed.
In the great struggle of the 1920’s the historic Christians devised certain “litmus tests” of orthodoxy. The purpose was to force people to honesty, since a great number of the Modernists still claimed to be orthodox Christians, despite denying the essence of that religion. Thus, the tests of orthodoxy called the “five fundamentals” were formulated:
- The inerrancy of the Bible
- The literal nature of the Biblical accounts, especially regarding Christ’s miracles, and the Creation account in Genesis.
- The Virgin Birth of Christ
- The bodily resurrection of Christ
- The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross
These tests were effective in that they were able to draw clear lines of delineation and distinction between people who believed in historic Christianity, and those who did not. The great problem which J. Gresham Machen points out is that these tests began to be treated as though they were the center of Christianity. The center of Christianity is the recognition of sin, of Jesus’ work on the cross, and the decision to receive free grace and live a new life with God. Christians should never take their eyes off of these central tenets. However, the litmus tests (as I would prefer to think of them) were essential because they pointed out the heretics who denied facts which were essential to the gospel.
In our own day, the abuses of the five fundamentals are well known, which has weakened their effectiveness. This is evident, for example, in the fact that Rob Bell makes a brazen attack on one of the five, and a great number of young people say “what is wrong with that?”
In our day, however, the real issues are not the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection of Christ. We live in an individualistic, narcissistic, and hedonistic culture. The one great maxim of our society is “do what thou wilt, only that thou hurtest no-one” (note: this is the Wiccan motto). The student of history may be interested to know that we are approaching an age very similar to the one in which Christianity was born. The question, then is, “What role is the church to play in such a context?”
What is the purpose of the Church? Jesus said it clearly, “You are the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden…” It is to be the witness of our moral lives, and the genuine heart-transformation which Jesus brings which is to attract people to Christ. As Bruxy Cavey is apt to point out, Jesus often turns to His disciples when He preaches his major sermons, such as the Sermon on the Mount. What is the purpose of this? The rules of Christianity are for the Christians. Others may – and, indeed, often do – listen in. When Christianity is really genuine, it will often shame people into living better lives: however, we are never to force our ethics onto others who do not believe as we do. On this point, Paul is quite clear, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges,” (1 Cor. 12-13).
There is no doubt that Christians have sinned – and sinned greatly – in this regard. Christians have erroneously felt that it is the role of the faithful to dictate morality for all others. The worst, most grotesque expression of this is, as most people are aware, is Fred Phelps and his GodHatesFags.com. How such a man of vindiction and judgmentalism can call himself a Christian, I will never know.
Ashamed of examples such as these, many Christians have been shamed to silence on this issue, or have even denied that homosexuality is a sin, as though condoning sin is a kind thing to do for a sinner.
I do not believe that this is the right way to handle this issue. We are the salt of the world: but if salt has lost its flavor, what good is it? We are to be a moral compass – but what good is a compass which points one direction one moment, then shifts to another direction in the next? The “moral compass” of many churches seems to be more of a wind-sock- pushed and moved by the winds of change, more than pulled on by God’s unchanging word. Such a compass is broken – worse than useless, because it misleadingly claims to know truth.
Christianity is to be a moral guide – and we should not forget that as a moral guide, Christianity can be of some service to the human race. Society as a whole – and many weak Christians as well – are telling people to look within themselves for truth. But what is it that they find? Every heart is a mass of conflicting desires, of powerful urges, of lofty ideals, all mixed together and distorted by a very warped self-image. One may well chart a course by the feelings of the moment – but in the next moment, these feelings will change. They may, in fact, feel ashamed of the actions just committed – as though a stranger, and not them had done them – and wish to go in another direction entirely. Anyone who attempts to chart a life-course by looking inwards is bound to a life of confusion, despair and utter defeat.
It is precisely at this point that the Bible is of some use, even to those who do not follow the teachings of Jesus. On the exceedingly difficult topics of human sexuality, God sets out some concrete standards for right conduct. Within God’s plan, sexuality, as we all know, is to be within heterosexual marriages only.
For much of my life, this commandment was a burden to me. As a single man, I chafed against the injunction to celibacy outside of marriage. However, it gave me a direction in which to move. I was not one day pursuing immorality, the next day longing for monogamy. Rather, I had a steady course charted for me. Through the stormy seas of youthful passion, I knew at least which desires to encourage and which to squelch, and which direction I was heading for. Having now come to a less tempestuous time of life, I can in some ways look back on that time of my life and reflect. The people, I found, who were the most help to me were those who – like the Scriptures themselves – were absolutely firm in their convictions, and also in their love for me. People who waffled and bent and tried to make Scriptures accommodate to the wild desires of my flesh were no help at all, but rather a great snare to me.
From this experience I learned that being too nice to somebody who is struggling is not nice at all.
My experience with heterosexual desires greatly influences my thinking on homosexual desires – something of which I have no personal experience, although some close friends wrestled with significant homosexual urges. My belief is simple: if someone is not a Christian and a homosexual, I, as a Christian, need feel no compulsion to say anything. It is helpful to think of such people as in the same category as those who are living in fornication. Usually it is no great revelation to them that I do not agree with their life-style: what is helpful is for me to maintain friendships, so that they may see the person of Christ in my life. If, however, someone is a Christian and has homosexual urges, it is the duty of the Christian community to come around that person and present to them the firm moral compass of God’s word on this issue.
The Bible, as we all know, is perfectly clear on this topic:
1) God’s ideal is revealed in that He created male and female
2) God identifies homosexuality as a sin by giving it the death penalty (along with, for example, rebelling against one’s parents) in the Old Testament
3) God reveals that homosexuality is the result of sin in Romans 1
4) God concretely states that homosexuality is one of the sins (along with stealing, coveting, fornicating, etc.) for which people will be denied entry into heaven (1 Cor. 6:9-10)
When a Christian person feels homosexual urges, then, they may know to put such urges in the same category as a heterosexual man puts lustful thoughts. These are feelings to be fought against, in the power of Christ. If these desires are affected by genetic factors, this does not really change anything (alcoholism, outbursts of rage, and other maladies of the soul are also affected by genetic factors): they are still to war against the flesh in the power of God.
It is very important that Christians – who often are so afraid of failure, they don’t even know what to do when somebody comes forward with something such as an addiction to porn – to not reject a person who is struggling. Although we cannot accept someone who is blatantly, unrepentantly continuing in any sin (the attitude of unrepentance is more important than the sin itself), we can and must welcome and accept any person who is struggling to live a holy life. We walk with such people, trying to understand them and help them – being gentle and compassionate, knowing that we ourselves struggle in many ways as well.
If such a person comes into a Christian church for help with their homosexual desires, however, they should not be shocked or surprised to find that the help which will be offered is help in resisting and overcoming these desires as sin, since this is how our holy book teaches us to think.
Considering that the witness of God’s word is so very clear, there are two questions which must be asked: first, what is the loving thing to say to someone who is struggling with homosexual urges? Is it loving to capitulate, to fail to serve as a moral compass, to turn that back rather to their own conflicted hearts, or to the shifting winds of culture for direction? Considering that (if one is to take 1 Cor. 6:9-10 literally) one may be dooming a soul to hell by not confronting their sin, tell me, what is the loving thing to do?
The second question which must be asked is, “what must be done to Scriptures to make them accommodating to homosexuality?” There are many issues in which I believe the current churches are straying from the true teachings of the Bible. However, on most of these, there is real room for debate and ambiguity. On the issue of homosexuality, however, there seems to be no room for debate whatsoever. If there are some conflicting passages, please enlighten me – however, I believe that the only real way that a church can be “welcoming and affirming” to homosexuality is by denying that the Bible contains any ethical standards whatsoever, other than a vague notion of love towards God and neighbor.
I have close friendships with two people who were once struggling with homosexual urges. Such people are human beings who need, above all, love and support, encouragement and companionship as they try to make decisions with absolutely devastating consequences. A large portion of what they also need, however, is direction. Their teachers are not allowed to give direction. Their TV’s give widely conflicting directions. Their friends are all confused. In Christianity, and in the Bible, is the one place where such people can come to find at least one concrete opinion on what the true and right expression of their sexuality is to be.
To the extent to which Christians shirk their duty, hesitate at their task, or are afraid of speaking the honest truth, they are not being faithful to their Lord or their friends. If a major denomination, church or pastor waffles and distorts e on this point, one is fully justified in questioning the orthodoxy and integrity of such a person, seeing as it seems manifestly plain that a Christian who condones homosexuality is being very much more influenced by culture than by Christ. If they cannot read the Bible clearly on such a plain and obvious point, they are likely not faithful to the Word on other points.
They have failed the “litmus test” and you would be justified in being suspicious of their orthodoxy.