Can we no longer tolerate dissenting voices?

I spent a good part of my week at synod, the general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church. I was gratified with the respectful, civil, and orderly conduct of the delegates’ deliberations on difficult issues. Most of all, I honor the patient presence of synod’s president, Paul Devries, and other officers. The manner of the debate displayed the CRC at its best.

I was also struck by how delegates worked hard to make room for other people’s ideas and positions. On the Belhar Confession and on the Doctrine of Discovery there was a concerted effort to reach decisions that accommodated a larger share of the delegates.  

Sadly, that was not the case with the issues surrounding the report of the Committee to Provide Pastoral Guidance re Same-Sex Marriage. Synod recommended the guidelines of the committee’s minority report, even though it was not intended to stand apart from the majority report. Furthermore, those recommendations are, to my mind, unnecessarily harsh and invasive.

They prohibit all officebearers from not only officiating, which is understandable, but also from participating in a same-sex wedding. This means, for example, that an elder could be disciplined for offering a prayer at her son’s same-sex wedding, a pastor for walking his daughter down the aisle, or a deacon for “standing up” for his sister. All these situations were mentioned. In my opinion, this is less about pastoral guidance and more more about policing. These are issues of personal conscience for officebearers, and this kind of ecclesiastical interference may cause great pain for families, individuals, and congregations.

Synod also decided that the CRC needs to give further study to the issues surrounding human sexuality and appointed a study committee to present “A Biblical Theology of Human Sexuality.” Of course we need such a study in today’s society. But synod then restricted the voices that could be heard in this study. Only those who “adhere to the CRC’s biblical position on marriage and same-sex relationships” (the 1973 and 2002 reports on homosexuality), will be at the table.  

As far as I can determine, this is the first time synod has applied a litmus test other than Scripture and the confessions in appointing a study committee. It’s a dangerous precedent. Synod has determined to silence the voices of all who disagree and to bar them from the table. This raises some serious questions.

Has synod, in effect, declared that there is room for only one biblical and acceptable response to the issues of marriage and same-sex attraction? And what of those individuals, congregations, or classes who have differing views?  Will they be silenced and their biblical, theological, and pastoral reasons be unheard and ignored? Will they possibly even be disciplined for expressing them? 

Over my 46 years of ministry, my beloved church has courageously, and at some cost, tackled important and divisive issues like racism, women in office, and creation and science. On each of these issues room was made for other opinions, other voices. No litmus test was applied. Can we no longer tolerate dissenting voices in this issue that affects so many lives?

I still hope that we will find ways to make room. I hope that congregations will send overtures pointing out why the pastoral guidelines for officebearers are too restrictive and invasive. I hope that the newly appointed committee and future synods will see the wisdom of a long-standing principle in our denomination by making room for other voices, other viewpoints.

Let’s not be ruled by fear but by mutual trust; not by litmus tests but open dialogue; not by excluding other voices but by listening to them.

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 (49)

Comments

Thanks Len, for an insightful article.  You pinned the tail on the donkey this time.  I don’t know what Synod was thinking this time around.  I’ve seen several articles use the word “prohibitive” for Synod, especially in regard to the same sex issue.  To me, that seemed to be the case with which Old Testament religion had become, a religion that Jesus came to do away with.  Even the ten commandments were negative, “thou shalt not...”  Jesus often ignored the prohibitions of the Old Testament and put them into the positive, “thou shall love God and neighbor,” or “do unto others as...”  But it seems as though Synod backed up into the old legalistic mentality.  And it’s a mentality (at least for this Synod) with the added insurance that prevents open dialogue in the near future (the limitations for the study committee on human sexuality).  I guess we won’t be bothered by those homosexuals for a while.  That’s too bad.

Synod prohibits ministers from participating in same-sex marriages. Meanwhile, agencies answerable to Synod (Banner, Back to God Ministries) use denominational money to help advocates of same-sex marriage. Too often agency elites don't want to represent the CRC; they want to remake the CRC.

Are not the dissenting voices in the world today and those not being tolerated, but attacked, the Bible believing Christians? It is not the other way around as Leonard Vander Zee and others would claim. No! What is truly under attack here is the authority of God's word. A redefinition and idolatrous reshaping of God and the Bible to suit the pleasures of sin. Homosexuality is to be exempt from fornication, adultery, sodomy and lust. Gay people get a pass. They are not to be held biblically to the same standard as heterosexuals.

Truth be told, our crimes against God are so serious that they demand the death penality and then damnation. God offers mercy and grace through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.

"But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each women her own husband." (1 Corinthians 7:2)

Thank you, Len, for having the courage to speak out on this.

Thank you for having the courage to raise these concerns.

Thank you so much for taking a stand in support of diverse voices within the CRC. 

I hope too that many will send in comments asking that we as a Deniomination make room for ALL, and stop applying a "litmus test' to determine who can be part of our denomination!  In the decision that it made, is it possible that Synod has in effect declared there is room for only one acceptable response to the issues of marriage and same-sex attraction? What do we say then to those who have differing views?  Are we in fact telling them that their opinions and feelings and thoughts don't count? Somrthing to think about!

Kevin Hoekman's comment is brutal. Or, perhaps, it's right on, because everyone should be included in the death penalty he recomments, since we are all fallen and thus condemned. Yet remarkably, God loves all the fallen and, in Christ, voids the eternal death penalty. So maybe the earthly death penalty has no place in our world, while even disagreeing Christians should communicate with repect due family members.

On another point, I do not understand why Mr. Hoekman or anyone singles out homosexuals for harsher, more condemnatory opinions and verdicts than lodged against straight sinners. In my years as a pastor, I saw so many instances of sexual abuse, adultery by heterosexuals--and in more than a dozen cases by heterosexual male leaders--that made travesties of traditionally accepted barriers and assumptions, while wreaking permanent emotional, spiritual and physical harm to victims. None of the offenders was ever disciplined, though most resigned and joined other churches or simply disappeared from the visible Body of Christ. 

In response to David Feddes's comment: The church is always changing. He has been an agent of change for a long time, not always agreed with, but genuinely respected. Agency "elites"--a condescending and arrogant epithet--are faithful denominational employees, subject to conditions of employment, agreed by contract to face accusations fairly brought and sanctions legally and justly imposed.

Meanwhile, it is not inconceivable that trying to change the CRC is a legitimate function of their leadership. May Dr. Feddes extend the respect he enjoys to others with whom he disagrees.

Of course those who hold to a "purity" and literalist view of Scripture want to exclude any kind of dissenting voices. That's obvious from the language they've used. Discussing controversial topics is a very fearsome thing...i might have to think about something new...i might change my mind! Better beat down those voices and stick with those who agree with me. And in the meantime, the "Crexit"--CR Exit--continues.

Amen to the strong, final sentence of this piece.  Yes, yes, and yes!

Well said; thank you!

Len, in an earlier editorial you advocated that discussion should continue while decisions should be withheld.  Now that the vote went differently then those on the affirming side of the debate would have hoped, does that principle still stand?  Or in this call for overtures challenging the decision, are we hearing that the time for action has come and we're now going to fight it out on the level of church order?

 

I hope that discussion will continue. But for it to continue, there must be openness on both sides of the divide.  In any such debate, one of the prime tempations is to begin to feel that the Spirit and the Spirit's fruit are the exclusive posession of only one side.  The truth is that just as there are people of love, compassion, and spiritual insight on the affirming side of the debate, there are also people--including same sex attracted people--of love, compassion and spiritual insight on the traditional side of the debate, who do not feel that SSM is the direction God would have us go as a church, on whatever level, locally, classically, or denominationally.

 

Perhaps, as you say, this is the time for overtures of protest, for digging in.  But I wonder...could it also be an opportunity for those on the affirming side of the debate to sit with a new kind of holy uncertainty of their own?

 

Or are their minds made up?

 

Can the church not make room for those experiencing same-sex attraction AND at the same time maintain the church's long-standing belief (confession?!) that marriage is by God's design a covenant union between a man and a woman? Of course she can! Sadly, this editorial suggests making room can only be realized when the church allows (affirms) heterosexual and homosexual marriage. This is the trajectory of Vanderzee's editorial.

In effect he argues that the church should be open to accepting a new hermeneutic (agreed upon rules for interpreting the Bible) that teaches same-sex attraction and same-sex marriage should be affirmed. What other novel interpretations will the new hermeneutic open up? And what kind of unity are we trying to preserve when we can no longer agree on the rules we employ when we interpret the Bible?

In dealing with women in office, racism, and creation and science the differing interpretations did not employ new rules for interpreting. Not so with same-sex marriage.

The kind of making room that Vanderzee has in mind may be a room without walls altogether. 

There seems to be two views prevalent in our churches, in regard to active homosexuals, including married ones.  The one perspective looks at relevant Scripture passages, as though the author (for instance, Paul in Romans 1) is speaking of all homosexuals.  By their homosexual activity they are declaring their hatred of God with the result that God has abandoned them.  This is a fairly literal understanding of Romans 1.  This view holds that homosexuality and love for God are not compatible, therefore practicing homosexuals cannot be members of the church.

The other perspective is that Bible authors are not speaking of all homosexuals, but only of those who hate God and have turned their backs on him to worship false gods. Such a perspective would not include gays who love and want to serve God.  This view recognizes that homosexuality and Christian faith can be compatible, and where both (homosexuality and Christian faith) are evident should be allowed full membership in the church.

It seems to me that we all use a filter through which we understand Scripture or Scripture’s intended teaching for us today.  John Calvin suggested that the Christian should see all of life and living through the lens of Scripture.  The problem, though, is that we all interpret Scripture differently depending on our own (or our denominational) prejudice.  The lens is not just Scripture, but Scripture as seen through my filter.  It is like the U.S. Supreme Court justices whose highest responsibility is to interpret the U.S. constitution as it applies to law today.  Some justices interpret the constitution using a broad construction, others a narrow construction, but all nine try to reach an interpretation that satisfies the intention of the constitution and/or of its original authors as it applies to particular laws today (such as same sex marriage or abortion).  Christians do the same with the Bible.  As we try to hear God’s voice in Scripture, we use a variety of filters or lens by which we try to understand the intention or voice of God for today.  So for instance, Reformed, Baptist, or Pentecostal (etc. etc.) Christians, due to different filters, will understand salvation differently, whether they see it through a Calvinistic, Arminian, or experiential filter.  But all hold the Bible as God’s infallible word and want to be true to God’s intention for us today.  We might see issues differently at different times or under different circumstances depending on the Scriptural filters or lens that we use.

The same could be said of the women in office issue, and now today, of the homosexual issue.  In our recent past, our denomination thought the Bible taught that women were not to have authority over men and therefore could not hold positions of authority in the church.  In the meantime our culture came to the conclusion, that women could perform in roles of leadership as effectively as men (which has proven to be true) and soon the church started looking at Scripture through a different lens or filter by which women could also assume roles of leadership in the home and church.  A change of lens by which to look at Scripture and a different conclusion.

When it comes to the homosexual issue and our recent Synodical decision it seems obvious that our churches have chosen to look at Scripture through a lens that applauds what many think was Paul’s prejudice (and apparently God’s) against all homosexuals, and wants to maintain such same prejudice against practicing gays today with the firm conviction that God has abandoned them (Romans 1:24, 28), as must we, also.  This is the lens through which our denomination reads Scripture, even though we could as easily use a different lens that would encourage us to love and envelope our homosexual brothers and sisters in Christ as full and valued members of the church.  This is not a matter of making room for all views or simply a tearing down of all walls.  For both sides it seems to be a matter wanting to be true to Scripture.  One side tends to look at God and Scripture through the lens of God’s justice, the other through the lens of God’s love. Of course, both (love and justice), but one viewpoint still uses a lens tinted more heavily in one or the other direction.  The CRC has typically been tilted in the direction of justice in comparison to other Christian denominations.

Jeff, you shuld note my two objections do involve having further discussion. 1. I objected to what is in my opinion a too stringent guidance for officebearers. 2. I objected to a litmus test for the commitee, which would, in my estimation limit the discussion that is necessary. 

One of the hymns in the new Lift Up Your Heart hymnal says "All are welcome, all are welcome, in this place."  Apparently we need a revised LUYH book that removes that hymn, or changes it to "Most, but not all, are welcom in this place."

If Synod appoints another committee to further study issues surrounding human sexuality but restricts the makeup of the committee to those who adhere to previous Synod dictates, what results do you expect?  The CRC needs to grow up and accept that some people express their sexuality in postive manner, but different than the traditional model. 

It would be better for the CRC to more concerned with compassion and justice and focus it’s energies to be a postive influence on the world.

Thank-you for your insight in this article.  I watched the synodical proceedings on live-stream, along with a few hundred other people from all over.  I have not seen anyone comment on the means by which the conversation over the same-sex report was stifled on the floor of Synod.  When reports are brought forward to Synod, delegates have a chance to get up and speak, which can range from offering an opinion, support, expert guidance, amendments to the phrasing of parts of the report, and points of order.  However, one of the things they can do, is "call the question", which, if it passes, strictly limits the conversation. At this point, no one new can queue up to speak, no one (not even people who are already in the queue) is allowed to offer amendments or variations on how things are adopted, etc.  In other words, those voices are strictly and utterly silenced.  On this issue, the question was called VERY early, after few delegates had spoken.  Based on the outcome of the "call the question" vote (on which there can be no discussion or debate), the voices of the majority silenced the voices of a large minority (I'm guessing about 40% or so, based on the outcome of the vote on the report).  Those silenced delegates were there representing tens of thousands of congregants of the CRC.  Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the means by which the debate was suppressed effectively shut out the voices of a huge swath of members of the CRC, and this seems to defeat the whole purpose of Synod.  

A symptom of polarization is that everything gets read through a sort of center-set lens. "Does this piece move the needle to the right or to the left?" And depending on which direction we want the need to move, we applaud or denounce. It's all abut moving the needle politically. Can we move enough hearts and minds and especially pressure and votes so that our side wins? Winning is everything. Win at all costs...

What also happens is that everything becomes a proxy in the larger battle. Nuance or actions on other legitimate planes must be denied. We all navigate these layers in face to face relationships. Do you wish your friend "congratulations" at an engagement that you feel is unwise or unbiblical? Are we courteous even when we don't agree? 

If it is possible might we let some steam out of the chamber and look at arguments resisting the polarizing forces.

I agree with what I read as Len's two points here. Synod 2016 has left us a bit confused on some counts. I don't anticipate the CRC becoming a police state, however. I hope in this age of social media the KGB isn't remade in Facebook and Twitter. 

I also noted the criteria put in place at the selection of the committee. I understand why they did it, but as I've written before we are wrestling with implicit confessions here and the move tempts us to imagine the logic of the 73 report is operating like one. Confessions in our system are support to be gate keepers and boundary markers. Confessions are supposed to give both a common platform of agreement within which we can disagree. We have not done the confessional work on this question. I hope the new committee sheds light on it but doing that confessional work will require generating more light than heat and especially pressure. 

Roger in the comments here talked about filters. I'd recommend we look a year further back to the old "Report 44" from 1972. https://www.crcna.org/sites/default/files/Acts1972_nature.pdf Notice how confessions work as our filters. 

If we are going to have a profitable conversation, a substantive conversation, we need to be able to hear, and evaluate points in the conversation, given by both sides, outside of the polarizing dynamic. 

 

I’m deeply disappointed with the editorial comments made by the interim Banner Editor Leonard Vander Zee in his opening editorial piece on Synod 2016, “Making Room”. The highlighted question: “Can we no longer tolerate dissenting voices?” summarizes my concern the most. By extending the discussion on SSM and the issues around it for another five years hardly seems like an intolerance to hearing other voices. Yes, the limitations are there to where this discussion can go. (Referring to the 1973 and 2002 reports on Homosexuality.) But, we are after all a confessional church. It is the nature of our church’s very origins to root ourselves to a confessional/biblical discussion in which these report go into at great length. They set theological precedence for us on how we discuss issues with this kind of moral scale. And clearly sex is a moral issue. Why wouldn’t we anchor our discussion there? The Belgic Confession Article 7 is a great statement that deals directly with this. It makes the point that “We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length” is where all of our moral, confessional and theological discussions should always begin and end. It also makes a crucial point about the weighty discussions of the sort that we as a church are in now. It says; “herefore we must not consider human writings—no matter how holy their authors may have been—equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of times or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else. For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule”. The very essence of being a church in the Reformed heritage is defined by this statement. Why wouldn’t we expect that all of our discussions also follow the same path? I would be deeply troubled if they didn’t.

As a “veteran” of the “discussions” that the United Church of Canada began on the human sexuality issue some 30 years ago, I think I have some benefit from hindsight to bring to the CRCNA at this point in its journey. 

For instance, so much depends on how the “discussion” is framed.

Leonard Vander Zee, and others who favour an open discussion about same-sex attraction/ marriage, frame the issue in terms of trust, openness and inclusion.  At its root, though, what they ask the church to do is to embrace contradiction.

This much should be clear: to claim that a marriage is a relationship between two people of the opposite sex and also a relationship between two people of the same sex is a violation of the law of non-contradiction. [For an introduction to LNC, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-v8eKRbz30]

When you frame the “discussion” in these terms, I think one can quickly grasp the problem that this issue poses for the church.

Does the person of God contain contradictions?  Is God both just and unjust[see Romans 9:14]  Did creation, in its original, pre-fallen condition, have contradictions?  Are there contradictions in God’s Word?  Between God’s general and special revelations?  The clear, consistent teaching of scripture, and the historic teaching of the church, is no.  God is one - and without contradiction. [Deut. 6:4] 

The Law of Non-Contradiction is the most basic “law” in all of creation.  It flows from the character of the Creator, and all order in creation flows from it.  To violate this law is to attack/ damage/destroy order and Truth.

To be sure, the Law of Non-Contradiction is exclusive.  However, Jesus was untroubled by this and applied non-contradiction consistently during his earthly ministry [see, for example, Luke 11:14-23 where he applies the law four times in rapid succession, including, “whoever is not with me is against me.”]

My battles with the contradictions that remain in me due to my sin are more than sufficient.  I have no desire to discuss embracing other contradictions, even in the name of “tolerance” and “inclusion.”  It would appear that the majority at Synod share this view, albeit it is not clear to me that they articulated their decision in these terms. 

Fear, in and of itself, does not make one wrong – and Trust, openness and inclusion are only virtues in the service of Truth which is, by definition, free of contradictions.

These are things that I did not understand in the 1980’s, but I do now, and am grateful for the opportunity to share them.  It will be interesting to see how many folks wanting discussion will see the reality of contradiction in the sexuality issue.

Thanks, Rob, for your comment.  If I use the criteria that you suggest, and it is in keeping with our Reformed heritage, then (I take it) I should come to the conclusion that homosexualism (a homosexual lifestyle even though married) is a matter of unrepentant sin.  It is a practice that a person (or a Christian) knows falls short of God’s approval (and even condemns) and yet he/she continues to engage in this sin, and even wants the church’s approval of such a lifestyle.  Therefore the church is right to prevent such a person from becoming a full member of the church.  God will not allow unrepentant sinners into heaven, so it doesn’t make sense to allow them full membership in the church while living here on earth (until they repent).  I think this is the rationale that many (and apparently most CRC) Christians see as a valid interpretation of Scripture in regard to the homosexual lifestyle.

Assuming this is the right interpretation of the Bible and therefore the right course of action for our churches to take, why don’t we apply these same principles to other sinful practices in the church?  It is obvious that “gossip” is a sin, also listed in Romans 1, along with homosexual behavior.  It is very obvious that, as a sin, gossip can do a tremendous amount of damage.  I don’t know if you could even say that for homosexual behavior.  It is also obvious that many in the church are given over to habitual (unrepentant) gossip.  I don’t know if I have ever heard of a church member being brought before the elders for gossiping, let alone being barred from membership.

Or what about gluttony (the act or practice of eating to excess, British Dictionary)?  Certainly a sin of Biblical proportions.  Gluttony does tremendous harm to the human body and  probably contributes much to our national debt.  It certainly contributes in preventing people from reaching their full potential of effective productivity. Again, sin with definite harmful effects.  And yet look at many (probably a majority) of our church members.  It doesn’t even take guess work to know who they are and that they are guilty of unrepentant gluttony.  I heard a story of St. Peter, the gatekeeper of the gate into heaven.  As people came to enter through the pearly gates of heaven, Peter pointed to a bathroom scale and beckoned them to step up on the scale before entering through the gates.  And the common response from Peter was, “I’m sorry but you have 20, 40, 50 or even a hundred pounds of unrepentant sin.  You knew gluttony was a sin but you continued to overindulge anyway.”  It was even heard that Charles Spurgeon, who was 75 pounds overweight, say, but “didn’t I prophesy in your name, Lord?”  And from the other side of the gate it was heard someone saying,  “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.”

Why do Christians pick out the sins that they themselves are not guilty of to be hard nosed about and take a hard line against. “No room for homosexuals, but all fat people are welcome.”  Does this make any sense at all?  Jesus said,  “The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.” And then he added, “why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?”  If we are going to let sin, like gossip and gluttony, which are definitely harmful to self and others, pass under the wire as though they were not sin, why not do the same for homosexualism (homosexual sex is no more harmful than heterosexual sex)?  Is this part of our good Reformed heritage, when it comes to interpreting and applying Scripture?

With respect to Roger's July 18th post, his analogies of gossip and gluttony would only parallel homosexuality if the church had been asked to redefine gossip and gluttony as good things, rather than as si ns, and had done so.  As far as I know, such requests have not been made - yet - and gossip and gluttony remain sins.

Interesting take, Jim, on the issue of homosexual behavior. So I take it, if homosexuality had never come up as an issue for our denomination it would still be considered a sin, but one the church could live with, just like gossip and gluttony?  Or are you suggesting that because it has become an issue (no longer a sin) for our culture and is finding growing acceptance there, therefore the church cannot let homosexual behavior slip under the wire for the church? In other words, the church (or our denomination) must make a statement, as to the severity of a homosexual lifestyle, and show that such behavior will not be tolerated in the church.

Interestingly, murder, theft, and bearing false witness have never come up for review by Synod, but unlike gluttony, is not allowed to pass under the wire of the church’s scrutiny and discipline.  Of course, a person committing murder or stealing is granted forgiveness in Christ and acceptance by the church, unless such sin is habitual (repeated without repentance on a regular basis). In that case such persons would not be allowed to be confessing members of the church or would be put under discipline.  These sins (murder, theft, bearing false witness) were/are not the subject of denominational review and yet discipline is swift and sure.  This is similar to the homosexual lifestyle issue.  A single occurrence of homosexual activity may be forgivable, but certainly not a lifestyle or pattern of such living.  Regardless of any study committee, a homosexual lifestyle would not pass muster or pass inspection, and be allowed to go unnoticed like gossiping or gluttony. 

So your perspective, Jim, on homosexuality, gluttony, and gossip doesn’t quite ring true.  I think the bottom line for the church (our denomination) is that living in unrepentant sin is not only condemned but is cause for removal from church membership.  My question still stands, if unrepentant sin is grounds for discipline, why don’t we apply the same scrutiny and action toward gluttony, gossip, and we could also include masturbation.  It’s hardly a secret who falls short on the measuring stick of gluttony.  When unrepentant excessive eating is so harmful (referred to as sin in the Bible), why don’t we discipline and remove such members from the church?  Why do we treat some sins (even harmful ones), like gluttony, different from other sins?  It could be that so many members of the church are guilty of such sin, so we just as soon treat it lightly or as though it’s not even a sin.  I’m having a difficult time understanding this lack of consistency in our denomination, as to sin.

Of course, for many, even in the church, the question is, is homosexualism (especially in a same sex marriage) to be considered as sin?  A large minority in our churches (and members) do not agree with the pronouncement of Synod.  There is a clear way by which to understand Scripture as not necessarily talking about all homosexuals.  But, of course, our Synod (our churches) do not even want to consider that possibility.  Our next study committee will not be allowed to consider that possibility or go in that direction.  I think our churches relish the idea that few of our members are guilty of homosexualism and therefore can point to our culture and say, see how much better we are than our society.  Certainly this is a sign that the Holy Spirit is sanctifying his church and purging us from sin, while at the same time saying, see how sinful our culture is.  And yet it seems that the Holy Spirit has done very little sanctifying work in regard to gluttony within the church.

Thanks for your article Len.

There's an implied assumption in your suggestion that because study committees shouldn't have litmus tests other than scripture and the confessions, therefore the 'litmus test' given to the new committee is improper.  Implicit then is your own conviction that the guidelines given to the committee are not clearly scriptural.  You offer no supporting argumentation as to why the '73 position isn't clearly biblical, it's simply assumed in your suggestion.

Synod gave those requirements with the conviction that the '73 position is clearly taught in scripture.  In that sense, such a requirement is no different that the expectation (for example) that all those on committees that study racism should agree that it's sinful...or the expectation that all those on the committee to study alcohol should agree that drunkeness is bad.

So it's not as simple as your generalized suggesting that we need to make room for other voices.  What needs to be argued instead is that scripture isn't clear on this particular question.  I wonder how your last sentence might be different if the subject matter were instead something you believed was clearly taught in scripture.

Responding again to Roger. 

In my brief response to one of your earlier posts, I was simply trying to point out that your argument is flawed: the conclusion you reach does not follow from your premises and you imply a form of cause-and-effect that is illogical and does not make sense. 

In very brief form, the argument I made in my post about non- contradiction runs like this:

    §  God’s divine nature is without contradiction in his being and his persons.

    §  God’s divine nature is generally revealed in creation where we find order always associated with non-contradiction.

    §  God’s Word is his special revelation to humanity and, consistent with his character, is without contradiction.

    §  Marriage is designed and ordered by God in his original creation, and it is originally without contradiction.

    §  Contradiction [sin] is introduced into creation only after the Fall.

    §  It is a violation of the Law of Non-Contradiction to argue/advocate that marriage can be a relationship between two individuals of the opposite sex and two individuals of the same sex.  That violation is a problem [a deficiency].

In what ways is this not true?  [And by “true” I mean, how is any of these statements (Biblically) false or not logically connected or not valid?]  I am not asking – or expecting – that you agree with them; I would simply like a direct response to the line of reasoning, without questioning my motives.

By the way, I am sympathetic to some of what you say about hypocrisy in the church.  In my United Church days I argued that, if the church was going to oppose sexual sin, it needed to oppose all sexual sin, and that heterosexual fornication and adultery were far more prevalent sins than non-heterosexual sins.  I still think that is the case. 

Nonetheless, hypocrisy does not nullify ethical standards.

Likewise I agree that there are significant numbers of folks in the CRCNA who do not agree with Synod’s actions.  Are we, then, not a “house divided” [Luke 11:17]?  Is this not the underlying issue that needs to be discussed?

 

 

First, thank you Andrew Beunk for your comments. Second, I often wonder how many people have taken the time to read the 1973 report - it seems to me that while 40+ years old it remains incredibly relevant (yes, some specifics need updating - e.g., terminology and reference to reorientation therapy). The following point is from SUPPLEMENT- REPORT 42, II. Pastoral Advice:

7. Christians who are homosexual in their orientation are like all Christians called to discipleship and to the employment of their gifts in the cause of the kingdom. They should recognize that their sexuality is subordinate to their obligation to live in wholehearted surrender to Christ. 

By the same token, churches should recognize that their homosexual members are fellow-servants of Christ who are to be given opportunity to render within the offices and structures of the congregation the same service that is expected from heterosexuals. The homosexual member must not be supposed to have less the gift of self-control in the face of sexual temptation than does the heterosexual. The relationship of love and trust within the congregation should be such that in instances where a member's sexual propensity does create a problem, the problem can be dealt with in the same way as are problems caused by the limitations and disorders of any other member.

Thanks, Jim, for your latest comment.  I think you put too much weight on this so-called law of non-contradiction.  I think if it carried any real weight it would be taught at our seminaries but obviously it isn’t.  I’ll try to simply explain where your reasoning falls short, as you asked.

Both general revelation and special revelation requires interpretation.  That’s the bottom line, Jim.  When it comes to general revelation, that is what scientific researchers and historians do.  They work tirelessly trying to understand and to reach conclusions in regard to our world.  But scientific researchers (and historians) don’t always agree in their interpretation of the data.  There may be some general agreement, such as a general agreement in regard to evolution, but there is still a lot of room for disagreement in the details.  So to make a final and definitive statement as to the creation/evolution of our world, this would be impossible.  And for people to make such definitive statements about general revelation shows a shortsightedness.  Two different people (or groups of people) may make two entirely different and even contradictory statements about the same subject but may both be false statements because of a faulty interpretation of the facts leading to their conclusions.  Although each may think they have definitely found or reached the truth, further research may show that neither assumption of truth was correct.

When it comes to special revelation, the Bible is also subject to interpretation.  Your interpretation may be different than mine.  A CRC Reformed interpretation of particular Bible verses may different from a Canadian Reformed or United Reformed interpretation of those same verses.  A Reformed interpretation of portions of the Bible may be different from that of the Baptists or a Catholic understanding.  There are over a thousand different Christian denominations within the Christian religion, each interpreting the Bible different from another denomination or group of Christians.  Each group makes their definitive statements different from yours or my interpretation.  You simply cannot say my interpretation of the Bible is the only true one.  So you may make a declarative statement about marriage, but it is based on your interpretation of particular verses.  Another person may come to an entirely different conclusion in regard to marriage.  And those conclusions may contradict each other.

Beyond the necessity to interpret both general and special revelation, is the idea that there are also hundreds of different religions, each making the same claim as Christianity, that our Scriptures are inspired by God and therefore entirely true.  The Koran was given Mohammed literally by the angel Gabriel and therefore is inspired by God and unquestionably true.  The book of Mormon was given to Joseph Smith by the angel Moroni and therefore also true.  We deny the truth of those other religions, just as they deny the truth of Christianity.  There is no way to insure that our special revelation is more true than theirs.  And yet all these inspired Scriptures contradict one another in numerous ways. 

It seems that there are several variables that makes the law of non-contradiction rather useless in the debate over homosexuality.  But it’s an interesting idea.  Thanks.

Sounds good David, but.....  Listen again to the last sentence that you quoted from the 1973 report, “The relationship of love and trust within the congregation should be such that in instances where a member's sexual propensity does create a problem, the problem can be dealt with in the same way as are problems caused by the limitations and disorders of any other member.”  Does that statement mean a homosexual lifestyle should simply be overlooked and treated as though nothing is wrong with such a lifestyle?  That’s how we treated gluttony in the church.  Certainly many people in the church have a serious propensity to overeat beyond what is healthy for themselves and loved ones, but yet we treat such sin as though it is of no concern for the church.

The “so-called” law of non-contradiction is not a recent product of my feeble or fanciful thought- processes; it was first articulated, as an academic concept, by Aristotle in the 4th century B.C.  [I hate to name-drop, but Aristotle carries a lot of “real weight” in the history of philosophy and ideas.] 

Non-contradiction is the pivotal rule in the rules of classical/traditional logic.  Many a textbook or website about logic will explain that it is impossible to think without using the law of non-contradiction.  If this is not taught in seminary, it says much more about shortcoming in seminary education than it does about shortcomings in the law of non-contradiction.

I find it deeply ironic that Roger waxes eloquent about interpretation as the “bottom line” of science, apparently unaware that the entire scientific enterprise rests on the law of causality – which is simply the law of non-contradiction stated in another form.  An effect cannot cause itself [no truth claim can be both true and not true at the same time and in the same relationship].

Equally ironic is that Roger’s closing swipe at non-contradiction – “there are several variables [that make it] rather useless… - has to rely on the principle of non-contradiction if any reader is to understand what he wrote!  He implicitly affirms what he rejects even as he rejects it.

At this point, I end my participation in this thread of the comments, but I appreciate Roger's engagement for sharpening my thoughts.

Once again, thanks Jim.  I was a little harsh in judging your law of noncontradiction.  Sometimes (often) we (I) will go to an extreme to make a point.  It’s like saying, “you always...” or “you never...” when the truth may lie in the middle somewhere.  I realize that this law of noncontradiction is basic to logic, but it isn’t as helpful as you make it out to be, especially when it comes to religion and faith. 

Within your own mind, such a law may be helpful because your basic propositions are tied down and unchangeable in your own mind.  The problem though is that your unchangeable propositions (such as the definition of marriage) is not the same as what is in another’s mind.  And the differences have come as a result of differing interpretations of the same data (the Bible).  Unless all parties agree with your propositional truth, then the law of noncontradiction will do little good.  In dealing with concrete objective realities this law has a better chance of being beneficial.  That is why science can often come to general agreement on a variety of subjects and research.

But when it comes to religion, that is a horse of a different color.  Factor in the multitude of different religions.  Between them, it is almost impossible to come to an agreed statement of propositional truth about the character of God.  Is God one, three, or many?  Christianity says, God is both one and three at the same time (Is that a contradiction?).

Narrow that down to Christianity, which claims one source of authority, the Bible.  And yet there are thousands of different interpretations of the one and same Bible, hence the thousands of Christian denominations, all thinking differently on different Christian issues and topics.  And this is all while using the Bible as their source of authority.  This law of noncontradiction is now totally unwieldly.  But narrow it down further to our own seminary, whose professors are the experts of Bible interpretation (at least Reformed interpretation).  And even there you will find differences of opinion and interpretation.  I would imagine that even there, there might be differences of interpretation and understanding when it comes to the homosexual issue.

So while this law of noncontradiction may be helpful in some areas, it is not overly helpful when it comes to Christianity and its understanding of the homosexual issue.  Sorry.

Jim & Roger,

I think where you're missing each other is that law of non-contradiction doesn't apply here.  The law of non-contradiction states that 'A' and 'non-A' cannot be true at the same time and in the same way.  The definition of marriage is a choice between A (limited to man + woman) or B (not limited to man + woman), not A or non-A.  One would violate the law of non-contradiction if he or she were to assert A and B were both true at the same time, but one does not violate the law of non-contradiction by choosing B instead of A. 

However Jim, I think your experience coming from the United Church of Canada is vital to us.  We need to hear your voice in terms of how the outcome of this particular exegetical debate inevitably impacts so many others.  I suspect that many of the voices in our denomination calling for change on this one question do not realize and would not like how such a precedent would impact our approach to other crucial interpretive questions.  The pattern is there for us to observe in many other denominations (the UCC being one of them).

I find this to be a watershed hermeneutical question.  But it IS that--a hermeneutical question.  It can't be decided by the law of non-contradiction.

 

 

Jim & Roger,

The wording in first paragraph in my last comment is a bit confusing.  Better said, one COULD construe this debate as a choice between 'A' and 'non-A', but the law of non-contradiction is only broken if one asserts them BOTH 'A' and 'non-A' at the same time.  One does not violate the law of noncontradiction by choosing 'non-A' instead of 'A'.

Sorry about that.

Thanks Craig.  I understand your reasoning in regard to the law of noncontradiction, and especially agree that resolving the homosexual issue is a hermeneutical question.  So thanks for that input. 

As to the law of noncontradiction, it does not fit very easily into the basic issues of Christianity.  Most of the core teachings of Christianity defy this law (of noncontradiction) because the Christian faith is built on a number of miracles which by definition are impossibilities and therefore defy the law of noncontradiction.

Even the wisdom of condemning a homosexual lifestyle within same sex marriages (the CRC position) goes against conventional wisdom and common morality which would suggest that a permanent bond of love (even “agape” love) is a healthy and beneficial relationship.  So it doesn’t make logical sense that the loving bonds that should be upheld in every other relationship should now be declared as immoral among married homosexuals.  This, itself, is a contradiction of the basic Christian tenet of love for one another.  In other words, the CRC position is not logical or does not make common or Christian sense (and defies the law of noncontradiction).  But there is no contradiction (in regard to homosexual love) outside of Christianity when abiding by natural law or common sense and logic.  The contradiction is within Christianity. 

Religion (of all kinds) does not fit well with this law of noncontradiction, because most religions involve miracle working Gods who impose their own laws on humanity whether they agree or comply with conventional wisdom (or the laws of nature) or not.  Such is the case with the homosexual issue.  So, it seems to me, that the church is trying to work within a closed system of morality that have laws (or think they have laws) that go beyond and above the laws that are written on the hearts of all people.   So thanks again, Craig, for your input.

Thanks for your response Roger.

It’s probably not worth a lot more of our time, but the law of non-contradiction is more specific than you suggest.  Belief in miracles does not violate the law of non-contradiction, nor does any tenant of the Christian faith.  That is to say, there is nothing in Christianity that requires one to assert that A and non-A are true at the same time and in the same way…if it did, it would be unintelligible.

What’s of much more interest to me is the question of marriage and how you’ve articulated a defense of broadening the definition.  It seems to illustrate very much what I said in my previous post about how these hermeneutical and philosophical attempts to change the definition of marriage necessarily set a wholly unhelpful precedent for many other questions; and I suspect, it’s mostly unwittingly on the part of those who are making the arguments.  Forgive me for a lengthy response.

First of all, you equate the condemnation of sex with the condemnation of loving bonds; as if when one says “I don’t believe it’s moral for you to have sex with each other” it’s synonymous with saying, “I don’t think you two should have a loving bond between you.”  If that’s the case, then we shouldn’t deny that anyone can have sex with anyone else.  After all, don’t we want everyone to have loving bonds with each other?  My point isn’t that you really believe this Roger.  My point is that this is a really unhelpful way to go about arguing in favor of a broader definition of marriage.  There are all kinds of instances in which we say, “Yes, absolutely, have a loving bond with each other…but you violate God’s designed intent if you sexualize your relationship with each other.” 

Secondly, you take issue with the CRC’s position on the definition of marriage because it violates conventional wisdom and the laws that are written on our hearts.  I see two major issues with this.  First of all, it’s an extremely dubious claim.  Whose conventional wisdom?  The conventional wisdom of North American culture in the year 2016…perhaps.  But certainly not the conventional wisdom of North American culture 50 years ago.  Not the conventional wisdom of many cultures around the world today.  Not the conventional wisdom of legions of cultures throughout history.

In addition, this amounts to the assertion that we should be guided on issues of morality by (constantly changing) conventional wisdom and by what’s written in our hearts.  Doesn’t that sound exactly like the book of Judges where Israel does whatever is right in her own eyes?  Is that really the precedent you want to set for moral and ethical discernment?  Again, I don’t think this is what you really believe Roger, but the reality is that it’s what you articulated.

Thirdly, I understand that your comments are made with the assumption that the Bible does not clearly forbid same-sex marriage.  But does it any more clearly forbid multiple marriage partners? Or marriage between family members? Or marriage between an adult and a child (is it clear on what the definition of a child should be?)?  If we can’t say with certainty that the Bible defines marriage as a partnership between one man and one woman; then there isn’t much at all we can say with certainty about the Biblical definition of marriage, except for perhaps its permanence.

In summary, both the hermeneutic and philosophy used to defend a broader definition of marriage simply don’t stop with homosexuality.  That’s not a slippery slope argument.  It’s simply a way of highlighting that the hermeneutic and philosophy are flawed.  If the same reasoning can be used to defend things you clearly know are wrong, then the reasoning must itself be in error.

Thanks again Craig for the comment.  I agree, we should be conscious of how much we monopolize the responses to this article.  But realize, also, that the conversation had pretty much run dry before it started up again with the three last commentors.   So I doubt if we are doing much harm here.  And seeing as you asked questions in regard to my comment, I’m going to chance a further comment.  And if anyone else is listening in, they are more than welcome to join in the dialogue.  As you may have noticed, I do comment often as a religious skeptic.  Christianity can be described pretty broadly.  Even Thomas Jefferson called himself a Christian, although a Christian deist.  He regarded himself as a Christian because of his appreciation of Jesus’ ethical teachings and perspective on salvation.  I’m simply saying Christianity can be defined as broadly or narrowly as one might want.  My definition may or may not fit yours or vice versa.  It didn’t sound as though those who penned the Canons of Dort were willing to accept the Christianity of the Arminians but today that has changed and Christians are much more eclectic.  Are Mormons in the camp today?

I’ll try my best to make clear what is at the heart of this homosexual issue and where the church falls way short, even as it has on a number of other issues.  Marriage is the expression of an outpouring of love and commitment between two people.  When the apostle Paul describes marriage between a husband and wife, it is always in terms of an agape love, a self sacrificing love, a love that puts the marriage partner before oneself.  The marriage bond is boldly exemplified by Paul as a Christ like love.  Christ’s sacrifice for the church is to be similar (possibly exact) to the sacrifice that the marriage partners are willing to make for each other.  Marriage in the New Testament is never explained or defined in terms of romance or erotic love.  The wedding forms that we use in the CRC, and that are used in other churches, and used in civil marriage weddings, all give expression to a deep seated self sacrificing love for the wedding partner.  The kiss that a couple give to each other at the end of the wedding service is the physical seal of such love between the two getting married.  It is not a sign of erotic love but the sign and seal of a self sacrificing love that a couple have for each other in both good times and bad.  And sex between a husband and wife is the ultimate expression of one’s commitment to his/her marriage partner.  First and foremost sex is the symbol of the couple’s oneness, unity, and bond of love.  When the church prohibits homosexual sex within the bonds of marriage it is prohibiting the very love that Paul is advocating for in the church and everywhere. 

When the homosexual couple stand before a minister or a judge in a wedding service, they are professing the same love before God for their same sex partner, as the heterosexual couple expresses for their partners in a conventional wedding.  They are not there to express an erotic passion for their partner, but rather a deep seated self sacrificing love that has no limits.  And this is what the church (CRC) will not recognize as being valid amongst homosexuals.  This love is what was at the heart of Adam and Eve’s marriage (if you want to call it that), a deep seated love and commitment to carry them through life, struggles and all.  This is what is at the heart of same sex marriage, as well.  Adam and Eve’s bond wasn’t about sex, but rather love and commitment.  And now the church is saying that two people of the same sex cannot have that same commitment to each other, which would naturally include the expressions of that love.  Our denomination will say that homosexual orientation is not sinful, but when two people of the same sex are attracted to each other and their attraction develops into a Biblical love, they are not allowed to express that God approved love.  Does this make sense?

When Paul condemns homosexuals in Romans 1, or when the Old Testament condemns homosexuals, it should be obvious that the condemnation is for such sex demonstrated apart from the love and commitment that such acts are meant to express.  Paul is likely observing and commenting on the homosexual sex that was performed in the heathen temples of his day and recognizing that such acts apart from the intended love and commitment was wrong and sinful.  He would have been just as critical (or should have been) of heterosexual people doing sex apart from love as he was of homosexual sex being performed apart from the bonds of love and commitment.  But most Christians just cannot seem to recognize the actual sin that Paul is talking about.  Sex (all sex) apart from love is sinful, but sex as an ultimate expression of love and commitment is good. 

Last, you seem critical of my use of the term “conventional wisdom.”  The Western conventional wisdom of 50-100 years ago and the conventional wisdom of other cultures have been strongly impacted by Christianity or other religions.  The U.S., Canada, and Mexico have, in the past, been thought of as Christian nations.  Seventy years ago, it was assumed that most American families went to church together on every Sunday.  But today we identify as a multi cultural and multi religion nation.  We no longer assume that it is Christianity that identifies and defines us.  That is increasingly becoming the case.  Christianity is increasingly become less relevant to educated societies.  That is the reason why our supreme courts have turned their backs on the right to life movement or have allowed the definition of marriage to include same sex marriages.  They legislate law based on the interpretation of the constitution, rather than the Bible.  The Bible is increasingly being removed from the popular mind set as the standard of morality and ethics.  That is not to say that the ethical standards of Christianity or other religions are necessarily all bad, but nor are they all good.  As a nation, we no longer pick or choose a particular religion to define us or our ethic, as we have done in the past.  Our judicial system has forsaken the view that homosexual expression is bad or sinful (a Christian perspective) and have concluded that homosexual expressions of love are no more harmful than heterosexual expressions of love, and in fact express the same love and commitment in a permanent commitment of love (even though many Christians would want to deny this).  This is what I mean by conventional wisdom, being guided by an ethic that is innate, rather than guided by a religion that is external.  Maybe natural wisdom or insight might be a better term, an insight to morality that seems natural to our human makeup.       A lot more could be said, but I’ve extended my limit already, by a lot.  Sorry.  Thanks for a listening ear.

Thanks for your response Roger.

I'm sure you and I could chat for a long time, but this may not be the right place or format.  So I'll keep my parting comments brief.  In short, your further explanations--rather than addressing the concerns I raised previously--only seem to confirm and exacerbate them.  Your observations about the nature of marital love are fine, but you continue to equate the denial of sex with the denial of agape love.  So once again, the question becomes why (if that's true...which it isn't) we would deny anyone the right to have sex with anyone else given that we are all called to love all with the very self-sacrificing agape love you describe. 

Secondly, your explanation of conventional wisdom only confirms that what you're advocating is morality by whatever seems innately right to us (unfettered by some external standard).  I haven't the space nor the energy to articulate what an unwise position that is--and profoundly unbiblical.

Finally, I would challenge you to take another look at Romans 1 and identify exactly where Paul says the issue is that they're having sex apart from love and committment.  You've read that into the text.

I hope you'll continue to think deeply about these questions Roger (as will I).  What you've articulated to this point is deeply problematic.  The concluding thoughts are yours.

You are right on, Len.  Synod is basically saying I as a pastor may not be part of my son or daughter's wedding if he or she is a thief, greedy, a drunk, a slanderer, a swindler, etc. (I Cir. 9:9,10), unless we are going back to the RC Church with different levels of sins.  My understand in the CRC & Scriptures is that sin is sin.  Ron Fisher

Thanks again, Craig.  I have enjoyed chatting with you.  Obviously, you have given this topic some thought.  Maybe as suggested by Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend,” perhaps our friendly dialogue helps each of us to sharpen our thinking, even on this topic of homosexuality.

As I suggested earlier there are a variety of variables that can complicate our interpretation of Scripture.  Certainly cultural context is quite an important variable.  Most often we try to read Scripture into our cultural context today, as though the context in which it was originally written makes no difference in our interpretation.  Let me explain just a small part of what I mean.  I had suggested (and you agreed) that the most defining characteristic of marriage is a Christ like love.  Paul strongly makes this point, explaining that as Christ gave himself for the church, so marriage partners are to give themselves for each other.    Paul, as well as other Bible authors, do not explain or define marriage in terms of erotic or romantic love, but only in terms of agape love.  It’s as if this kind of love (eros) doesn’t even enter into the picture of explaining marriage. It is amazingly missing altogether. 

Also worth noting (and very important) is that in first century New Testament culture (O.T. as well) , marriages were arranged either by parents or family.  Orthodox Jews still follow that practice today, as do the Amish people.  Marriages, ideally, were arranged on the basis of compatibility of the prospective partners.   Again, romantic inclinations had nothing to do with arranging for a suitable marriage or suitable marriage partners.  This makes the absence of romance from marriage all the more dramatic. It elevates Paul’s teaching on the core value of love to a Christian marriage.  It’s very possible and likely that romance or erotic love was not even necessary to a well functioning marriage.

And yet today, romance is the primary feature (or close to it) of any marriage.  How many weddings have you witnessed in which romance was not the fundamental feature of the bond.  Sure a love, even a self sacrificing love, might be important, but it’s a romantic love that brings a couple together today and is the glue that holds a marriage together.  If a couple should come for pre marital counseling and suggest that there is no romance between the two of them, a pastor likely would suggest that the two should wait before committing to marriage.  We would doubt if their marriage would make it for long.   Based on the Biblical teaching and example of arranged marriages, romantic or an eros love plays no part in a God ordained marriage (that we are aware of).  Romance is something that our Western and church culture has elevated and imported into marriage that was not necessary in a first century Christian culture.  And today, Christians, try to understand and dictate the rules of marriage based on a model of marriage that seems nonexistent in Bible times.  And so as you talk about the idea of marriage, it’s likely not even the model of marriage that the New Testament speaks about or seeks to explain.  What a shortfall for Christianity.  Doing this is a matter of interpreting Scripture without considering the original context in which it was written.  And obviously our churches do this as much as any other church group or our culture.

Christians and the Church have failed just as radically when it comes to the homosexual issue.  In Paul’s day there was no such thing as same sex marriages, in which two homosexuals were committed to each other in a life long relationship of love.  Same sex marriage is a relatively new phenomenon.   But also remember marriages were arranged.  And I’m almost certain that parents didn’t arrange for two people of the same sex to be married to each other.  A homosexual lifestyle was likely exclusively practiced outside of marriage, which would make Paul’s condemnation of homosexual sex understandable, especially if sex outside of marriage is considered sin, and especially if he was witnessing the heathen temple practice.  Paul calls these homosexuals, haters of God, along with a list of other names, and says they have been abandoned by God to their sinful practices.  That hardly fits the description of married same sex partners today who claim a love for the Lord and pledge their commitment and service to him.  Obviously Paul is talking about homosexuals very different from what we see in Christian circles today.  But our church refuses to see this, and cautions its members (ministers and elders are our primary models) from even participating in Christian same sex marriages, in fact alleging that there is no such thing as a Christian homosexual marriage.

Just because, as Christians, we are called upon to love each other with a Christ like love, this doesn’t give anyone with such love the right to have sex with anyone.  That’s a ridiculous accusation.   Sex belongs in the marriage relationship whether heterosexual or homosexual.  I don’t know where that accusation came from, Craig.

Next to last, you questioned how I could think that Romans 1 could be about having sex apart from love and commitment.  Such a view comes from reading Scripture in the light of other Scriptures, allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture.  I’m sure you do the same on a number of other issues, yourself.

As to an innate morality or ethic, we all know what is right and good, otherwise God couldn’t hold sinners accountable.  Paul talks about his own struggle, saying that he knows what is right and good, but cannot carry it out.  Paul’s inability to live a moral life is a topic for another discussion, but realize that he knows right from wrong, as do all people.  We talk about the law written on the heart.  Do we really need an external standard, as you say, to know what is good and right?  What about the majority of the world’s population who have never heard of the Bible?   Be assured that one doesn’t need the Bible to know right from wrong.

I’m sorry, since this is my parting shot, I have to make one more point, and it’s a long one.  Jesus came into the world and on the scene in the midst of the Jewish religion having become a very prohibitive religion (actually it always was).  The list of prohibitions, coming from an interpretation of Jewish law, was hugely extensive.  The very character of Jewish religion was that of prohibition.  Being a good Jew and child of God was a matter of obedience to all the Jewish legalisms.   Jesus, as a Jew, reacted strongly to such religion and broke many of the most cherished legalisms of Judaism.  But also his teachings reflected a denial of such religion.

The religion that Jesus advocated for was one of love for God and neighbor, a life of doing good.  When describing a solid well built house, able to withstand storms, it was one built on a foundation of good deeds, doing good for others, no a matter of keeping the prohibitions of a religious institution.  When describing the faithful service of a servant, it is the ones who use their talents for good that are commended.  When describing who will be welcomed in God’s eternal kingdom, it was the person who had helped the poor and needy, and these acts of compassion were shown, as not only done unto the needy, but as done unto Christ, as well.  Those are the sheep, rather than the goats, who are welcomed into heaven.  When describing the character of one who follows Jesus, it is the one who goes beyond the letter of the law to walk, not only one mile but two, or when asked for one’s coat will also give away his shirt, as well.  When Jesus described who the good neighbor was, it was not the one who lived by the prohibitions of Jewish law and therefore walked by the wounded and dying man, but rather the Samaritan who was willing to give of his time, energy, and money to do good and help this dying person.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest command of the Old Testament was, instead of naming any of the prohibitions (even the ten commandments), instead he answered that the heart of true religion (the greatest) was love for God and neighbor.  For Jesus true religion and salvation was not living by prohibitions but by demonstrating love, both for God and neighbor.  And love for neighbor is a bold demonstration to our world of our love for God.

The CRC has chosen the way of prohibition (especially with the latest Synodical decision) as a way of demonstrating our prejudice, rather than our love for God and neighbor.  Shame on us.  It’s been nice chatting, Craig.  Blessings to you.

Reading your editorial leaves me gasping for air! Morals seem to change in society from one generation to the next. Throughout the history of the human race ethics have not changed. God is immutable and the Bible is as unchangeable in translation as God Himself. This whole topic of same sex marriage stems from people debating whether or not we are able to change God's mind. If God gives man over to his evil ways it means exactly what is written in the scriptures; He will allow man to insult Him till death and then ...... It's an eternal place! I tell people this very fact from time to time and their response is exactly as the Bible says. They scoff and say, "I'm not afraid of judgment,"or" I'll tell him to his face what I think of his rules for life!" Meanwhile, to those that fear the Lord I say, "Stand strong and do not be afraid. Parents tell your children from age to age the same, for a crown of righteousness will be given to all those who endure." Church for the people is the new norm....a church that has more respect for the feelings of people than respect for the Holy One.

Ron, there are differences in the degrees of sin and Paul uses homosexuality as the very bottom of human moral depravity. If your son is a thief do you go with him to do a break and enter? If he's greedy do you show him the latest get rich scheme? Do we have special parades for the greatest alcoholics in your town? Maybe we should have 'get real' thinking classes for the confused?

Thanks Arie, the issue of same sex marriage has nothing to do with changing God’s mind.  People outside the church have for some time been asking, does it make any sense to condemn homosexuals or homosexual activity, especially in same sex marriages?  When we think of sin, we think most often of the harm that sin creates and causes.  Sin hurts people.  Theft, lying, adultery, murder, greed, etc. etc. cause harm to other people.  But there is no harm in being a homosexual or in homosexual activity within a marriage.  A homosexual relationship is as wholesome and beneficial as a heterosexual relationship.  So those outside the church, recognizing this, ask, why should such activity be forbidden any more than heterosexuals and heterosexual activity?  There seems to be no good answer.  And the same question is increasingly be asked within the church, why do we condemn homosexuals, even married ones, when no harm is being done by such people and activity?  Perhaps we have misunderstood the Bible’s teaching all these years.  There is a clear way to understand the Bible as not condemning all homosexuals, just as it would not condemn all heterosexuals.  No one is trying to change the mind of God, but to simply understand what he is saying in the Bible.  As it is, Christians are the ones (by their influence) who have wreaked great prejudice and harm against the homosexual community.

Roger,

You said. "But there is no harm in being a homosexual. A homosexual relationship is as wholesome and beneficial as a heterosexual relationship."

The Bible says, "just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which like wise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by under going a punishment of eternal fire. Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones...but these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively." (Jude vs 7-10)

"But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, "In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions. it is these who cause divisions, worldly people devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. and have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garments stained by the flesh." (Jude vs 17-23)

"But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed... For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgement; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteouness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard) then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority." (2 Peter 2:1-10)

Roger, you said, "Sin hurts people-but there is no harm in being a homosexual or in homosexual activity within a marriage."

The Bible says, "But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wages of their wrongdoing.They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions, while they feast with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls...speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is ensalved.

Roger, you said. "Christians are the ones who have wreaked great prejudice and harm against the homosexual community.

The Bible says,"This is the verdict: light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear their deeds will be exposed." (John 3:19,20)

'But you will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved." (Mark 13:13)

"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:19)

Kevin, you are dead on! But I'm afraid that it may as well be told to the wind. I see myself as foolish to respond to comments like the one you commented on for the pure simple fact that no reasoning can change the heart in most cases. We as true believers have a burden for the lost placed there by the Holy Spitit. Jesus says if the privileged won't repent and believe then go and seek the lost any place where you may find them, because the banqueting hall must be filled for the day of His return. Churches need to put this issue to rest and move on because it distracts from the Great Commission. To have love for the lost causes us discomfort and even pain, but without pain our faith life will become stagnant. When I find myself becoming angry over this issue my love for the lost dies, and practicing homosexuals are included in the list of the lost, according to the Bible.

Thanks Kevin for all the Bible quotes.  I don’t know how you pick your verses, but most don’t really apply here.  You are not dead on, as Arie suggests.  Maybe dead wrong!

As you must realize the Bible has little relevance outside of Christian circles, especially in a Western educated society.  Our society no longer looks to the Bible any more than looking at the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Hindu writings, or the Buddhist scriptures for moral guidance.  So to quote the Bible when evangelizing or criticizing our culture, it has little or no effect on our society.  Western society has increasingly become multi religion or no religion, and the Bible carries little weight outside of the church.  So Christians have to come up with a better argument than to say, the Bible says..., at least when addressing our culture.

So as our culture looks at homosexuals and homosexual activity, they see no harm that is done to anyone as a result of such activity.  If two people of the same sex love each other and want to build a lifelong relationship, then they should have the same opportunity as any heterosexual couple, and our society wishes them well.  Whereas in the past (when our society was influenced by Christianity) homosexual activity was unlawful and even punishable.  Today, apart from Christian influence, our society sees no harm done, such as with murder, stealing, lying, cheating, etc.  People instinctively know right from wrong.  So they look at the condemnation of homosexuals as an arbitrary decision that makes no sense, because it is not harmful.  They can be as upright and fruitful citizens as anyone else.

Increasingly Christians are wondering about such an interpretation of the Bible that condemns homosexual orientation and behavior.  Even to many Christians, the condemnation of homosexuals seems very arbitrary, what is the actual harm in such a lifestyle?  One can spout out the so called Biblical condemnations of homosexuals, but cannot point out how such activity is harmful.  Therefor such condemnation seems arbitrary like that of the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament were arbitrary and no longer make sense for today.  And there is a logical interpretation of Scripture that does not condemn all homosexuals, and we should be considering that.

How much wiser it would be to accept and love homosexuals like anyone else, which would make evangelism so much more effective than to condemn them as they come to our churches or not allow them membership in the church.  That’s hardly evangelism.  But in talking with you, Kevin and Arie, I suppose I, too, am talking to the wind.

The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:7)

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account. (Hebrews 4:12,13)

 

Roger the day will come when you wish it were the wind you were talking to.

Actually Roger i agree with most of what you're saying as far as society, culture and the relgions of today is concerned. The Bible does tell us that in the last days things will go from bad to worse. "But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come. "People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slandererers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good."           (2 Timothy 3:1,2)

Even in the early church and throughout history there has been opposition, hardship, and persecution toward Bible believing Christians. Even from those from within the church. In fact, maybe more so from within the church. Do we really think that there are not tares among the wheat? Wolves in sheeps clothing? Pressing hard and undermining the truths of God from within the walls of the church?

Maybe in the past our culture was guided by biblical principles.Not anymore, like you alluded to. Yet we are told to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching." (2 Timothy 4:2) For the message of the cross is foolish to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God... Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?...Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. (I Corinthians 1:18-26)

Homosexuality may appear harmless. God has held off judgement in these last days, unlike Sodom and Gomorrah. 'Instead He is patient with you (us), not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 peter 3:9-10) He also does not want people or little ones to be enticed into a wicked lifestyle that does not invlove procreation, which is to his glory, but will ultimately end up in judgement and hell.

But I submit to you Roger that your whole worldview and premise by which you stand and dispute on matters of faith, as we have talked about this before on other threads, is the wisdom of this world that 1 Corinthians 1 talks about.

Maybe the message of repentance and faith is not popular to the world. "For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." (Matthew 7:14)  But there is no greater message to the world, "no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Simon Peter answered him, Lord whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life." ( John 6:68)

Roger you said. "You must realize the Bible has little relevance outside of of christian circles...so christians have to come up with a better argument..."

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come." (Matthew24:14)

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks Kevin for the update.  I think one of the greatest things God has given to us is our mind and our ability to reason and logically think through life, including issues.  Our mind is what sets us apart from the animal kingdom, which basically acts on instinct.  It’s the human feature that makes us most like God, makes us image bearers of God.  And because of that I question the reasonableness of some Christians.  I think many Christians act on fear and superstition rather than rational thought.  I often hear Reformed Christians say, we don’t believe in superstition, but that is far from true.  And judging from your comments, you fall at the far end of the spectrum when is comes to superstition and fear.  Your comments and quotes are full of such superstition.  My dictionary defines superstition as, “a widely held but irrational belief in supernatural influences, especially as bringing good or bad luck.”  Walking under a ladder is unlucky.  Knocking on wood is helpful. “Don’t believe the way I do or according to my quotes and you will go to hell.”  Every religion uses scare tactics to win converts or to keep converts.  Such superstition has been especially prevalent in the past.  Most often it is a mechanism used to force less informed people into believing your way.  Your quote of Matthew 24:14 has been quoted continually from the time it was written down through the ages, as though the time for the end is close at hand.  But that time never seems to come.  We’re past two thousand years already, and still counting, and no doubt will be for another two thousand.  Most people in our culture have little use for a religion based on superstition and fear.  That’s being reasonable and logical. That’s using the logic and the thought process that God has given us. But from the tone of your comments such a religion is right up your alley.  Kevin, I’m not afraid.  My faith is strong and looks to a good God for support.  You may accuse me of ignoring much of the Bible, but Christians don’t all believe the way you do (a faith based on superstition).  That’s why there are thousands of different Christian denominations, all interpreting the Bible a little differently from each other.  Christians can be very diverse and still be Christian.  So, Kevin, you can quote all the fearsome verses you want, but you won’t shake my faith.  I hear you saying, “be afraid, very afraid.”  But I’m not shaken.  And I still think you are dead wrong on the homosexual issue.  I too, have the support of the Bible,.