As I Was Saying is a forum for a variety of perspectives to foster faith-related conversations among our readers with the goal of mutual learning, even in disagreement. Apart from articles written by editorial staff, these perspectives do not necessarily reflect the views of The Banner.

We are in the middle of a debate in the CRC about same-sex activity and marriage (SSM). There are overtures and synodical reports enough to strip a forest bare.

Some argue that that is simply against the rules God clearly laid down in the Bible—and, let’s face it, those rules do seem pretty clear. Others respond that the biblical writers never envisioned such a possibility as same-sex marriage, nor did their pagan neighbors. The Bible stands against destructive, dehumanizing sexuality, and we now envision a new possibility in the God-given gift of marriage.

With these differences, one group believes it is imperative that the Christian Reformed Church uphold the 1973 decision that same-sex activity is sinful. The other group wants to revisit that decision in the light of a fuller understanding of same-sex attraction and a different way of understanding the biblical texts that seem to prohibit it.

On a practical level, at least from the numerous overtures I’ve seen, it seems to me that that CRC is not ready to change the “rules” laid down in 1973. On the other hand, it is unlikely that the movement toward more acceptance of LGBT members and recognizing their marriage is going to fizzle anytime soon.

It is interesting to see how Pope Francis recently dealt with the matter of divorce and remarriage in the Roman Catholic Church. While he did not change the rules or doctrines behind them, he called upon local churches to deal with divorced members with pastoral sensitivity. In other words, rather than setting up a bruising battle over long-standing doctrine and ethics, he chose to recognize the differences of approach within the church, with an emphasis on the exercise of theological and pastoral judgment and mercy at the local level.

It may not be possible or wise to change the “rules” (1973) at this time, nor to pursue discipline against groups or congregations that find the rule onerous. This requires both sides to give up the desire to “win” or insist that others agree with their position. Instead it requires everyone to take route of forbearance for the sake of the unity and health of the CRC.

The fact is that the CRC has allowed for a wide array of local practices over the years and has generally shown a distaste for disciplining congregations that stray from the denominational norms. I believe it is possible, at least until there is broader agreement, to affirm basic principles while allowing for some differences in local practice—but only when all sides are careful not to offend the others by insisting on a universal agreement in local practice.

This model has some biblical precedence. In Romans 14, Paul describes a serious dispute over food sacrificed to idols that threatened to split the church. His solution was for forbearance on both sides. I am not arguing that the issue is necessarily equivalent to ours, though there are some striking similarities, but that the solution was centered in Christian love and unity and demanded self-sacrifice on both sides.

Let’s say a congregation ordains a deacon who is in a committed same-sex relationship. There could be an uproar in the classis if that congregation would then insist on delegating the deacon to a classis meeting. Forbearance means they would not insist on that “right.” On the other hand, some, hearing of this ordination, could insist that synod discipline the offending congregation. Forbearance means they would not pursue that “right.”

This whole issue is not, first of all, about rights, but about the responsibilities of maintaining the Christian community in love and unity—the practice of forbearance.

About the Author

Len Vander Zee is a retired CRC pastor now serving as interim minister of preaching at Church of the Servant CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.  

See comments (9)

Comments

Thank you Leonard for a helpful article.  At first reading, I said to myself, this man has the wisdom of Solomon.  He wants to save the baby (the denomination).  But after reading your article again, I think it is a difficult sell.  None of us (I hope) want to see a split up of our denomination, and that has to be a priority. We want and need unity.  But there are other priorities, as well.  So what gets sacrificed to reach that goal?

Let’s face it, this issue, for many, involves the very identity of who they are, or who their family members and friends are.  It’s a very personal issue.  It’s hard to sacrifice or compromise on such a big issue when the personal stakes are so high.  And increasingly, as homosexuals gain full acceptance in our culture, they are not going to feel good experiencing anything less than that full acceptance in the church.  There was a time in the past for me when I didn’t know, personally, a single homosexual person.  It was quite easy, then, to take a stand against the LGBT movement, and accept the simple answers.  But now I know several individuals and couples that are gay.  I see the pain that such people feel when, although Christians may be nice to them, they are still looked at as unacceptable sinners because of their homosexuality.  How can such people compromise on their very identity?  If this was an issue where all parties could just stand back without a personal involvement it might not be so hard.  It won’t be long, with the acceptance outside the church, that we will begin to see there are likely a lot more gays within the church than what we had previously thought.

So if this issue is handled as you suggest, Leonard, it would only be a short term solution, and would go further that what the 2016 synodical report suggests for pastoral advice. When you suggest that the denomination could “affirm basic principles,” I wonder what those principles would be?  Would they be the same principles as we presently hold in the 1973 report?  Or would it be a matter of the denomination temporarily withholding judgement as to the character of the homosexual person in a same sex marriage, and leaving such judgement to local congregations?  And could homosexual members transfer their memberships to more accepting congregations without fear of discipline?  There could be as much debate and contention over the details of such a compromise as there is presently over the present report.  The trick, it seems to me, is that the compromise would have to extend far enough to give satisfaction to both sides of the issue in the short term, until this whole issue could be resolved permanently. Is that possible?  Or is it as likely as Democrats and Republicans agreeing with each other in Congress?  They, too, have a difficult time reaching compromise.

Forbearance? Homosexuality is a sin issue, therefore a life and death issue. Not something to play around with or compromise over. 

"It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error. It is better to speak the truth that hurt and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills" -Adrian Rogers

"And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve."(Joshua 24:14)

"No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and dispise the other." (Matthew 6:24)

"Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus." (Revelation 14:12)

Your comments, Kevin, are pretty much the same on every issue presented in the Banner.  I suppose you could say the same about my comments.  I grew up in a Baptist family that was narrow in their Baptist thinking.  I remember, as a child, driving past Presbyterian, Lutheran, Catholic churches, and others as well, with my parents and hear them proclaim that these churches and their members were not Christian.  Infant baptism and other teachings excluded them from the kingdom of God.  I can also remember Reformed people also making similar comments about those outside of the Reformed theological leaning.  My parents and most other people who professed Christianity had a very narrow definition of who makes it into the Kingdom.  That could well be the point of the hundreds of Christian denominations, to narrow the standard of what it means to be a Christian.  I hear that sentiment for the groups that have left our denomination over the years, as well as the rationale when we left the Reformed Church (RCA) 150 years ago.  I also hear this mentality in your comments and quotes from the Bible.  You obviously have a very narrow view of who you think is acceptable to God, or of whom God is willing to choose for salvation.  You quote, not only verses that you think support your view, but also verses that proclaim condemnation on those who don’t agree with you.  What I remember most about my parent’s Christian faith was how unappealing it was to anyone outside of their narrow camp or even to me.  Evangelism was an invitation to join in with this narrow group of so called Christian thinkers and to look with disdain at everyone outside of their camp, whether they called themselves Christian or not.  Your comments betray such a mentality too, Kevin.

I don’t hear anyone in these comments or responses suggesting that they don’t want to serve the Lord or that their viewpoint is anything other than reflecting their choice to serve God.  But I hear in most of your comments your opinion that if others don’t agree with you, they have not chosen for Christ. I may have a perspective different from yours on many of these issues, but my perspective is not so narrow as to exclude you from God’s love and acceptance.  I hope you are gracious enough to do the same.

I think Leonard’s article is a plea to find some way to envelope Christians of various opinions into a perspective that will satisfy most of our members, even if temporarily, until we can come to a Christian perspective that might be more enduring.  It may be a stop gap measure but if not taken, we may explode before reaching anything permanent.  And such an endeavor should be encouraged in our Banner.  Thanks again, Leonard, for you love and concern for our denomination.

Roger, I'm sorry to hear of the sinful pride of your parents, in their thinking that the one Christian denomination they belonged to was the only true faith, and all others who belonged to other Christian churches were condemned for eternity. It is clear that you view such pride as sinful.

I'm curious, however...the "Roger Principle" (if I may call it that), which you have articulated in earlier posts is this:

"Gay sex is clearly not sinful. Because even though Scripture prohibits it and calls gay sex sinful, Roger personally knows gay people who are good people. These good people that Roger knows say they love God. They declare a desire to serve God, but they also want to continue having gay sex. Therefore, gay sex cannot be sinful."

That's the Roger Principle.

So why does the Roger Principle not apply to your parents? Sure, they were operating out of sinful pride, in a way Scripture clearly prohibits. Yet I assume they were otherwise good people? I assume they loved God? And wanted to serve him? According to your own reasoning, our church should accept the sin of pride, create generous spaciousness for it, and stop trying to change people who are prideful, correct?

Please explain.

It seems odd to me that Mr. Vander Zee would frame the exercise of discipline as the exercise of a "right".  Surely he knows better.  Does this not represent an obvious attempt to impugn the motives of those who would call for the necessary exercise of church discipline when sin is public and unrepented of?  Does the Bible ever frame discipline as a right? Certainly not!  Rather, throughout the Bible discipline is a duty.  Parents don't discipline their children because they have a right to do so, but rather because they are commanded by God to do so.  Elders don't exercise discipline because tehy have the power to do so, but becuase it is their duty to do so.  Discipline is not about exercising rights or lording it over another.  It's about holiness, righteousness, repentance, and faithfulness.  It's about salvation.  There was a time when those things mattered to editors of the Banner more than faux unity and denominational loyalty. 

Thanks, Dan, for your sympathy in regard to my parents. That is something to be lamented.  But don’t feel too badly for me or my parents, because this happens in all Christian circles.  That’s the reason for the hundreds upon hundreds of Christian denominations (there is very little agreement among Christians).  It has also happened within our own Reformed circles.  Just check out our Reformed confessions to see our hatred of Catholics and Baptists or read many of our synodical reports to understand our disapproval of many other Christian groups.  There’s your explanation, Dan.

Call it the “Roger principle” if you want. I call it a Christian principle.  Let’s try this instead of your statement.  “Straight sex is clearly not sinful. Because even though Scripture prohibits it (outside of marriage) and calls such sex sinful, Dan personally knows straight people who are good people. These good people that Dan knows say they love God. They declare a desire to serve God, but they also want to continue having straight sex. Therefore, straight sex cannot be sinful."   Sounds like the Dan principle to me.

Since when, Eric, is sex within a same sex marriage “public?”  And why should sex within a same sex marriage be repented of anymore than sex within an opposite sex marriage?  If you think such sex within the bonds of marriage should be disciplined, why then don’t we discipline masturbation (sexual self gratification) which takes place outside the bonds of the marriage between one man and one woman?  Where is the duty of our elders to discipline all the masturbators among our church members?

Roger,

How you've come to know of this problem of self-gratification amongst the men of your church, I cannot know.   Perhaps they've been confessing to you.  If you are confused about how to biblically respond to their confession, here's my advice: consult your pastor and elders, or point them to your pastor and elders.  If they have formed a self-gratification club or promotional society, I suspect your elders will be aware and will know how to respond.  I'm glad to hear or your concern.

Eric, it is no secret that masturbation is common, both among men and women.  It is reported that over 50% of men and 25% of women masturbate on a regular basis.  If you think that this is not a problem among church members, why are there those in our denomination making such a big deal over pornography use by church members and even pastors?  You may bury your head in the sand and think such acts don’t affect church members.  But reality and common sense would tell us that this is likely as much a problem in the church as it is outside of the church.  It’s like saying that gluttony is only a sin of our society when a quick visual check will tell you that gluttony is as much a problem in the church as outside.  Or that materialism is only a sin of our society, when a quick look in the garages of our church members will reveal Christians are no different than those of our society.  You may speak of the necessity of discipline when sin is public, but sexual sin whether it be masturbation, extra marital affairs, homosexual activity or any other sexual activity is seldom public.  I guess that lets a lot of Christians off the hook.  So why are we making such a big deal over homosexuality?  Maybe our elders should start targeting our church members who wear their sin on their sleeves (in other words, obvious sins, ones that are hard to hide).  But maybe those sins don’t bother you.