It’s time to re-open the Window on the World–our weekly opportunity to look at the world from the biblical point of view. Strangely enough, one of this summer’s major news stories concerned the church. On August 5, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in America voted to approve the election an openly gay priest as bishop.
Some years ago now, the priest left his wife and children to live with a homosexual partner. He did this because, in his own words, he wanted to answer “God’s call to acknowledge [him]self as a gay man” and to pursue a gay relationship he has described as “sacramental.”
The question is whether it is appropriate for such a man to serve as a minister of the gospel, and more specifically, as a bishop. According to the Episcopal Church, the answer is yes. Not surprisingly, the Convention also declared that performing a worship service of Christian blessing for same-sex unions is “an acceptable practice within the church.”
How should Bible-believing Christians respond to what the Episcopal Church has done, and how should we talk about these issues with others?
To begin with, I should state my conviction that homosexual relations do not meet the biblical standard for sexual purity. The Bible preserves sexual intercourse for marriage, which it defines as a love covenant between one man and one woman for life. Some people may consider a long-term homosexual relationship to be a kind of marriage, but it is not marriage in the eyes of God.
What, then, shall we say about a man who divorces his wife to live in such a relationship? At the very least, we should say that he does not belong in gospel ministry. The Scripture says that a minister must be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim. 3:2), which means that he must be sexually and relationally pure. The Scripture also asks a question that seems especially important to ask of a man who has left his family to live with another man: “If someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5).
Beyond any serious doubt, the Convention’s decision violates biblical standards for holiness. Yet it is not surprising that a majority of Episcopalian bishops voted the way they did. It is not surprising because in so many ways the Episcopal Church has abandoned its Reformation roots. After all, the man elected as bishop was already serving as priest! Nor is the decision surprising in the context of our culture. Today there is an aggressive campaign to normalize the homosexual lifestyle–what some have called the “gaying” of America. Now more than ever, it is “in” to be “out.” But this is only part of a larger cultural trend to liberate the individual from any and all moral limitations.
This summer’s vote really does not change anything, but merely serves as an index of what is happening in our culture. It also shows how desperate the situation has become for Bible-believing Christians still in the Episcopalian Church. It would seem that their only hope now is to ally themselves with the conservative bishops of Asia and Africa, who led the way in declaring homosexuality to be “incompatible with Scripture” at the Lambeth Conference back in 1998, and who are now considering disciplinary action against the American bishops.
For those of us who are not Episcopalians, it would be tempting to ignore the homosexual agenda altogether. The gay bishop is the kind of topic that most evangelical Christians would rather avoid discussing around the water cooler, over the backyard fence, or in the dorm room. But this is all the more reason for us to engage the issue. It is where the culture confronts the Bible most sharply that Christian courage is needed most urgently. If we lose the battle over gender and sexuality, we lose the heart of our culture.
What is wrong with homosexual practice? It is possible to make some rational arguments against it. We can point to the emotional distress that many homosexual relationships bring. We can talk about the physical dangers of homosexual promiscuity. We can even say that homosexual intercourse goes against nature; this is not the way bodies are made to fit together.
But when it comes down to it, the reason we believe that the gay lifestyle does not have God’s blessing is because this is what God has said in his Word: “Men who practice homosexuality… will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9; cf. 1 Tim. 1:10). This does not mean that anyone who is guilty of homosexual sin is beyond redemption. What it does mean is that anyone who is committed to a gay lifestyle–body and soul–is in rebellion against God and must either repent or perish.
People need to hear this. They need to know that homosexual intercourse is wrong. And they need to know that it is wrong because God says it is wrong. Then their real quarrel will not be with us, but with God.
Ultimately, our response to homosexual sin is a gospel issue. One of the people to see this most clearly is Paul Zahl, who is Dean of an Episcopalian congregation–the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama. According to Dr. Zahl, who is also a friend and colleague on the Council for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, the election of an openly gay bishop “demolishes salvation because it asserts that what Scripture calls sin is not sin. When there is no sin, there is no judgment. Without judgment, there can be no repentance. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness. The… decision… thus denies the redemption of the world to a whole category of persons” [quoted in Al Mohler, “A Trajectory Away from the Truth: How to Undermine the Bible,” Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, August 13, 2003].
Speaking out on this issue is something we owe to God. It is also something we owe to our brothers and sisters who are striving to honor God with their bodies, yet struggling with the temptation to commit homosexual sin. Is it a sin to lust after sexual relations with a person of your own gender? Is it wrong to leave your spouse in order to pursue a same-sex relationship?
The answer is yes, which means that anyone who is trying to resist these temptations and pursue a life of sexual purity is doing what is right before God, who shows mercy to sinners. If anyone should know this, it is the church–both its members and the ministers who are called to lead by the holiness of their example.
[Facts about the Convention come from Uwe Siemon-Netto, “Episcopalians Still a Church?” UPI, August 6, 2003; Cal Thomas, “Man’s Revisions of God’s Church,” Tribune Media Services, August 8, 2003; and Claudia Wallis, “A House Divided,” Time, August 18, 2003, 50-51].
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