The events taking place in American culture this past week have encouraged a number of people to engage (or re-engage) the issue of homosexuality and the church. Some have called this “the issue of our time.” I think that is up for debate. Events and movements look a whole lot different in hindsight than they do when you’re swimming in them.
Be that as it may, I feel a necessity of intentionally engaging this issue at this point in time, primarily (as I said yesterday), to equip younger Christians to understand the biblical and cultural realities of homosexuality and the church. I’ve seen that a number of younger Christians exhibit a great deal of ignorance both on the biblical and cultural realities of current events, and as a local church pastor I feel like it is wise for us to examine this a little deeper. This isn’t “my issue” or “the issue” for LifePoint Church, or a “hobby horse” that we want to ride into the sunset. But fear of you thinking that isn’t going to keep me from equipping our local body on this subject either.
There are so many different angles to this discussion for Christians. How do we move forward in a culture where biblical values continue to grow more foreign in the public sphere? What about impending persecution? How can we reach those battling homosexuality? How do we engage this mission without accommodating to the cultural mores that grate against the tenets of our faith? I’m not going to take up all of these questions in this one blog, but I will be blogging throughout the next several days to build a content base here on 2thesource that can hopefully be a helpful resource in the days ahead.
What I want to discuss here is this issue from within the church. There is a growing vocal minority within the church world for the acceptance of a “third way” of addressing this issue. For thousands of years there have been “two ways” God’s people on earth have handled homosexuality. Basically, one can either 1) practice homosexuality or 2) be a part of God’s people (Israel/the Church). The idea that one could practice homosexuality and be a part of God’s people on earth has been a foreign concept since God has had a people on earth. Meaning, homosexuality was punished by death in the Old Testament community (Israel) and excommunication in the New Testament community (the Church).
Recently, a “third way” has begun to be promoted from within the church. This third way is sort of a “have your cake and eat it too” kind of a way. The third way is: you can identify as and practice homosexuality and be a Christian who claims to fully support the Bible as God’s infallible word and rule of faith and doctrine. One of the leading texts, published a year ago, that advocates for this “third way” is Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships. I’ve had this on my shelf for several months and just read it in its entirety this past weekend. I don’t have the time or space to give a full review on it here, but I highly encourage you to read Timothy Keller’s fuller response to the book.
The book is a basically a biographical journey through Vines’ experience with this issue as a young man who grew up in a conservative Christian home. His dad was an elder in a conservative church in Wichita, Kansas and the family accepted the historic biblical position on this issue for his entire childhood. Through friendships in high school and heading into college, Vines felt an empathy for the homosexual community that seemed so marginalized by the church, and at age 19 going into his sophomore year at Harvard he says he discovered that he himself is actually gay. He left college to go home and study the issue and to work out his feelings that he was both gay and a Christian. Along with his dad, they started studying the issue in the Bible, and to their amazement they realized over time that the biblical texts really don’t teach against what we call homosexuality in our day. Alas, the “third way” emerged in their thinking: that one can be both a homosexual and a Christian. Running parallel to this personal story, Vines includes anecdotes from identifying homosexuals who have been (sadly and very despairingly) hurt by the church’s stance on this issue, along with his view on the biblical evidence that supports the third way.
As I said before, Keller’s article is a must read on this. In the coming days I hope to post a few blogs that handle the biblical arguments that are of great import in this debate. For now, let me simply say that the third way is a myth. I’m not saying that it is my job (or the church’s job) to judge every person in the world in regard to how they work out their sexuality. It’s not. But, it is the job of the body of Christ to “judge ourselves.” Since Vines, along with outspoken supporters like Rachel Held Evans, claim this third way is biblical; the church must judge the veracity of these claims. Paul’s word in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 are of great relevance here:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Before you start saying, “What about the greedy Christians you associate with?!” you should listen to the sermons and teaching we consistently produce (week after week) at LifePoint on the issues of greed, idolatry, reveling, drunkenness, swindling, etc. I haven’t talked about issues of sexuality in a sermon for about 4 months (1 Thessalonians 4), and that one sermon was about 4 months after we addressed the issues of sexuality from our Genesis series (Genesis 2, specifically) last fall. The next time a self-identified swindler comes out with a book advocating for a “third way” on swindling, I’ll be blogging the daylights out of it. The fact that the Bible identifies a bunch of different things as sinful doesn’t mean that talking about any of those things individually is out of bounds. This a huge talking point in culture and within the “third way” crowd: namely, if a Christian who believes the Bible says anything about what the Bible says on this specific issue, then it is all the church cares about. Young Christians, it is time to see through this sophomoric talking point and actually figure out what you believe (and how to articulate it with civility) concerning the sexual ethic of the Scriptures. Or, you could just post a rainbow on your Facebook profile and keep piling up the ‘likes.’ Either way.
To conclude my initial thoughts on the “third way,” let me simply say that I believe it is a cleverly devised illusion. Vines admits a couple of times that he 1) is not a theologian and 2) has not studied and does not know the original languages (Greek/Hebrew) which he references continually in the book. If you have studied either biblical theology and/or the original languages in any depth, it is apparent in his arguments that on those points he is being very honest. Biblically, the contortions that this book makes in order to read the author’s predetermined premises back into the Scriptures will make you blush if you know your Bible. Vines is a sharp guy, don’t hear me saying that he is not. He certainly studied a lot for the book and the subject matter is extremely personal for him. But as it comes to the larger body of Christ, we need to take a cue from the local church of which Matthew and his family were a part. After years of “open dialogue and positive discussion” on this issue, he admits that the local church (that they had been at for years and at which his father was an elder) decided that they “weren’t willing to engage in that conversation” any longer. His family then left the church.
I think the wider body of Christ can take a cue from that local body, in recognizing that the “third way” is not a way Christ or the Scriptures leave open. It is a revisionist reading of the biblical text. This doesn’t mean you or I have to be a jerk about it, but it does mean we need to get to know our Bible’s better and stay aware of the shifting winds of our time.