Did the Church Get It Wrong On Gay People?1
On Monday April 29th, USA Today published an opinion piece entitled American Churches Must Reject Literalism and Admit We Got It Wrong on Gay People. You can read it here. The main point of the author, Oliver Thomas, is captured well in the subtitle, “Churches will continue hemorrhaging members until we face the truth: Being a faithful Christian does not mean accepting everything the Bible teaches.”
The issue that is addressed, that of revelation and authority, is the preeminent issue and the author deals with it in a candid and surprising way. Thomas states that a new revelation has occurred, and it changes everything. He says in the opening paragraph, “A great revelation has occurred that is bringing joy and happiness to millions, but it is being met with resistance and retrenchment from many of my colleagues inside the church.” What is this revelation? It is “that LGBTQ people are just like us – only LGBTQ.”
So, the big question is this; Where did this revelation come from? This important because the source of the revelation determines it authoritativeness. If it is from Oprah, we can dismiss it. If it is from a church, a government agency, or any other movement of human origin then we can say confidently that it does not bind any human conscience. So where does this new revelation come from? Thomas’ answer: Reason and experience. Or as he says in a following paragraph, “we knew better.” This is amazing. He is setting the reason of man on equal footing with, or an even higher footing than, Divine revelation.
Two things are happening here. First, there is a tremendous exaltation of man. Second, there is a tremendous discrediting of God and his Word. That is what is happening, but how is it happening? How are these thing justified?
Thomas’ justification of exalting the reason and experience of man is only given in two ways. The first has already been mentioned. Thomas says “we knew better.” That is it. People just figured it out. Be assured, this is no justification. The people who “knew better” are the same people who will be viewed a hundred years from now as ignorant and guilty of some other blind spots. If reason and experience teach us anything it is that reason and experience continually let us down. This is what the Scriptures also teach. Ephesians 4:17-19 is one of the most damning passages on the reason and experience of man. In his natural state, man is “darkened in his understanding,” excluded from life because of the “ignorance that is in them,” having “hardness of heart,” “callous,” and have “given themselves over to…every kind of impurity.” Because of his fallen heart, man will use reason unreasonably, and will use experience to further sinful pursuits more efficiently.
Thomas’ second justification for exalting the reason and experience of man is that man has learned things: things that Moses, Paul, and even Jesus in his humanness did not know. What kind of things? His examples are “cancer, schizophrenia, atomic energy and a million other things the centuries have taught us.” This is an incredible example of missing the point. Of course Paul and Moses didn’t know such things. Those things have no bearing on what the Scripture says we need for “life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3) Those things are discovered in the normal course of man’s dominion over creation, and are understood and used according to the principles we find throughout the Scripture. But issues of morality are a different category. Morality is not something you find in a laboratory or by social examination. Even though the law has been written onto all hearts, because of the deception in all hearts we have to instructed what true holiness and righteousness is. And sexual ethics are on the high end of morality because they are intertwined with the most important issues of relationships: covenant faithfulness, family procreation, and the very picture of Christ and the church. God has spoken on these matters over and over again, in numerous places in Scripture, both in example and dictate. There is no gray area here. There is no ambiguity. There is nothing that man is going to learn that will overturn God’s moral law. Love is always and only to be defined by what God says is loving in his Word. As the Creator, he alone can authoritatively speak on how love is to be understood and shown. Man’s learning is real, but what man learns, as well as what man ignores, is always controlled by man’s heart. “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 Therefore, learning must always be subjected to the one authoritative word on what is true; the Bible.
The lion’s share of Mr. Thomas’ short article is given to discrediting God’s word. He says churches have painted themselves into a corner by saying “The Bible says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Why is that a problem? Because he says the Scriptures did not float down to us from heaven. But no adherent to biblical inerrancy teaches that. God is all powerful and if he wants a different method to bring us the Bible he can do that. The Bible did not have to float down for it to be perfect and authoritative. The doctrine of inspiration has been detailed over and over in many excellent books and articles, one of which is the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy which you can find here. Mr. Thomas misrepresents what the doctrine of inspiration teaches and then discredits the strawman he set up. This is terrible argumentation.
He then gave example after example of where he considers the Bible got it wrong. The examples he cites are King David’s census, the date of the crucifixion, Abram’s pilgrimage, slavery, women submission, the death penalty for adulterers, Sabbath-breakers and rebellious children, excluding women who are menstruating and men with physical handicaps.
This is extremely revealing for us about the methodology of discrediting the Bible for the promotion of sinful practices. It reveals another precise fulfillment of 2 Peter 3:16 which says, “in [Paul’s] letters… are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Every one of the 10 examples Mr. Thomas gives has been explained and answered many times, in many places, by many people. This is nothing less than intellectual dishonesty, and the very distortion 2 Peter speaks about. Mr. Thomas is distorting some difficult places in Scripture so that those passages will be seen as mistakes. Far from being mistakes, those passages demonstrate the depth of divine sovereignty (David’s census), harmonious details of specific happenings (the crucifixion and Abram’s pilgrimage), the nature of divine judgment and order, as well as living under human abuses of power (slavery), the creation order of gender roles (women submission), and the depth of holiness in a theocratic kingdom (death penalties and exclusion in the mosaic code). To read coherent, consistent, and biblically faithful explanations is within easy reach in our resource-rich society. To simply cite them as mistakes is willful ignorance for some passages, or willful refusal to accept what God said in other passages.
This article gives us a few indicators about how to prepare for this shifting culture we live in. First, you really do need to understand your Bible well. Since an errant Bible will be propped up as a straw man and clobbered, you need to know how resolve Bible difficulties. Get some questions well answered in your mind, like how the sexual ethic in the OT carries over to all people everywhere but not the dietary laws. Since there will be other questions, begin learning now what are trusted resources and how to do basic Bible study. This kind of training is a part of the pastor and elder’s job, so make sure to also be a part of a church that has a high view of Scripture, and clear expositional teaching is the norm.
Second, you need to be ready to confront people with darkened understandings. They will argue as those who have been blinded by the god of this world (2 Cor. 4:4). Reasoning with them is not truly possible because they are slaves to sin. You need to do as 1 Peter 3:15 says and sanctify Christ as Lord in your heart, being ready to give answers, and being ready to speak with gentleness and reverence. Proverbs 26:4-5 also teaches us the dual approach of not answering with foolish independence from the Scripture, but instead answering to expose how their worldview is self-defeating and contradictory. The Nashville statement is a clear and concise articulation that will be a helpful resource. 2 Timothy 2:25 also must be set in your mind, which says that what must happen is for God to grant them repentance by which they then can come to a knowledge of the truth. Only God can do the heart work that is necessary for a true change. Set your hope upon that alone as you hold to all of God’s Word and speak the truth in love. The only churches that are actually dying are those that are so worldly they have lost all distinction from the world, and the point of their existence disappears along with their vanishing doctrinal commitments.