Evangelicals are Gospel people. We are passionate about the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ who rescues sinners from death and Hell. If there is one issue that defines us above all else, it is the glory of God in the preaching of the Gospel for the salvation of sinners. This informs what we say, what we preach, how we witness, and how we live. This is the context in which we address the present crisis in the Church of Ireland. Therefore, it is important that in all the debates in the Church of Ireland about the homosexual issue that the Gospel is given its full priority and sets both the context and the agenda. In this article we examine homosexuality from the angle of the Gospel.
The Bible presents the message of God’s salvation that brings people from every race, language, culture, and background into God’s family and Kingdom through faith alone in Christ alone. God desires a people for Himself, of whom He can say, “These are my people,” and they can say, “You are our God”, who will enjoy His presence for ever. For such a people to exist God must act since mankind, because of wilful and sinful rebellion against God in and from our first parents, Adam and Eve, is separated and cut off from God, unable to access His presence and facing judgement because of sin.
In the Old Testament, this wonderful act of creating a people for Himself was typified in the salvation of the Israelites from Egypt, the calling of a people into His presence through the covenant at Sinai, and the sacrifices and Law given there. Their subsequent failure to live as God’s people only highlighted the promise of a Messiah who would undo the effects of man’s rebellion, reverse the curse of the Fall, and bring a people into God’s presence forever. All through the Old Testament, this figure is sketched out more fully and by the end of the Old Testament period, we are looking forward to the promised Messiah who would deal with sin and judgement and call a people for Himself.
The New Testament opens majestically with the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth declaring Him to be the one of whom the Scriptures speak who would bring God’s people into His Kingdom. Through His death on the cross, Christ has redeemed sinners from the curse of the Fall, God’s righteous judgement, and has removed the barrier that separates us from God’s presence. His resurrection is the proof that He is all whom He says He is and that His death on the cross achieves all that He said it would. Throughout the New Testament this wonderful message is proclaimed by the Apostles and other believers, calling Jew and Gentile to repentance, faith and trust in the crucified and risen One for this is the only way to enter into God’s family and purposes.
The Gospel and the Redemption of the body
Responding to this call is what makes someone a Christian. When, by God’s grace, that response of faith and trust has been made, this has implications for the way the believer is called to live. They have been bought by Christ’s blood and they no longer belong to themselves, but to Him who died for them. They are called to love Him by submitting to His Lordship and they do this by obeying His word. The way that Jesus describes this new life is taking up our cross and following Him. Just as he sacrificed Himself for us, so now our lives are offered up as living sacrifices to worship honour and glorify Him. The Christian life is the way of the cross, but through that life God is re-making us in His own image as He makes us like Jesus. This is the whole orientation of our lives: it is to be lived only in one way, His way - the way of the cross.
This has two implications that are important especially in the homosexuality debate. First, our identity is not primarily to be found in our sexual orientation. Our identity is to be found in Jesus Christ and in the orientation of our life to follow Him. Some gay and Lesbian people accuse Christians of wanting them to deny their sexuality. Our response to that is to say that to be a Christian our identity is only to be found in what we are in Jesus, a new creation, and not in any aspect of our fallen nature. We are called to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him.
A second implication of belonging to Jesus is that what we do with our bodies is extremely important. In creation God gave us bodily existence: indeed, He stamped his image upon it that we should live in this world displaying his glory. Much of the Old Testament Law regulates the life of the body in worship to God; Christ shared our flesh and rose bodily from the grave and promised us a future when He returns where our soul will be united to a resurrection body like His. In the meantime, while we live here on earth our bodies are indwelt by the Spirit of God as His temple. Put quite simply, we are to glorify or honour God with our bodies. This includes honouring God in the whole area of sexuality. In our sexual behaviour we are called to reflect the divine intention.
The Gospel and Sexuality
The whole debate about homosexuality therefore takes place within the context of the Gospel and within the context of God’s intention for human sexuality. Scripture outlines two valid lifestyles, one of celibate singleness, the life lived by Jesus Himself and many Christians ever since, and the married state. No other sexual relationship outside the married state, one man and one woman in exclusive, faithful life-long union, is countenanced in Scripture, either for heterosexuals or for homosexuals. This is why adultery and all forms of sex outside marriage are viewed as sinful. Heterosexual marriage is instituted by God – it is not a human construct that can be discarded at will and replaced by other forms of ‘marriage’. Furthermore, sexual intercourse within marriage is a gift of God that is integral to that relationship binding male and female into one flesh.
Jesus reiterated this teaching in Matthew 19. This is important, for many claim that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality (thereby implying that he might have thought that loving gay relationships are ok). On the contrary, by re-affirming heterosexual marriage Christ was also underlining the intention of the Creator God for sexual intercourse. It is a good and wholesome gift, given for heterosexual marriage alone. In other words, Jesus upheld the teaching of the Old Testament, which in matters of sexuality also included the condemnation of homosexuality. He fulfilled the Law, He didn’t deny it or undermine it, as proponents of the gay lobby would want us to believe.
Therefore, for same-sex sexual relationships to be valid before God there would have to be an equally positive affirmation of such relationships comparable to the positive affirmation of marriage in Scripture. But that simply doesn’t exist and in fact the opposite is true. Wherever in Scripture any type of sexual relationship outside of marriage is mentioned, it is condemned. Among them are homosexual acts. Whilst there are few direct references to homosexuality in Scripture, none affirm it as a valid sexual lifestyle before God. Rather, it is condemned within the context of God’s creative and redemptive purposes.
At this point we need to make a distinction between homosexual temptation and homosexual acts. To be tempted to certain sins is not in itself wrong or sinful – our Lord himself faced the full weight of temptation (though never giving way to what Satan put before him). People may live faithful, Christ-honouring lives even if they never lose their homosexual temptation or orientation. But we cannot claim to be living according to the Creator’s intention or as redeemed members of God’s Kingdom if we deliberately and consistently give full reign to these temptations, living a life that embraces a forbidden sexual lifestyle. The argument of the gay lobby that a Christian can live in such a way is an argument for a double-standard in Christian living. On the contrary, just as there is one faith, one Lord, one baptism, so too there is one standard for all who profess Christ. There are no exceptions for either heterosexual or homosexual deviations from this. The Gospel is for the homosexual person as well as for the heterosexual person (1Corinthians 6:9-11), and both as they orientate themselves fully to Christ are, by God’s grace, able to live faithful and godly lives in the midst of all their temptations.
The Gospel, Tradition, Reason and Experience
Within the context of the Gospel and God’s intention for human sexuality, it is crystal clear that no Scriptural argument can be made to support a gay lifestyle as acceptable to God. However, some within Anglicanism view Scripture as only one aspect of a tri-partite authority insisting that Tradition and reason must also inform the argument. Evangelicals accept that Tradition and reason are important for decision-making and must inform the argument, but remind those who see Tradition and reason as equal to Scripture that this is a mis-interpretation of classical Anglicanism such as represented by Hooker. Anglicanism has always held that Scripture is the final authority and that Tradition and reason are there to serve it, not to ‘lord it over’ Scripture or be used to undermine it.
When we apply the tests of Tradition and reason to the homosexual debate, it is apparent that these do not support the acceptance of a gay lifestyle as a God-pleasing one. Church Tradition gives no support for it. None of the Church Fathers ever countenanced its acceptance and no Church council ever supported or promoted it. Church Tradition is not a very fruitful source of support to advance the gay agenda in the Church. When it comes to reason, the argument usually revolves around a ‘gay-gene’ theory. But there is no clear and indisputable evidence of a gay gene. In fact, there is probably more evidence that a gay lifestyle is the result of nurture rather than nature. But, even if there were a gay gene, it would only underline the fact that our human nature is subject to the effects of the Fall. This invalidates the rather naïve argument, “God made me; I’m gay; therefore, God made me gay”. Such an argument leaves out the fact that human nature is fallen and not as God originally made it. Again, even if a gay-gene were to be proved, it would only pre-dispose a person to be tempted in a certain direction. It wouldn’t turn them into a robot where they had no choice in the matter. The gay lifestyle, even if someone is pre-disposed by their fallen nature to be tempted in that direction, is ultimately a choice, just as any heterosexual has a choice whether or not they have ‘casual sex’ or commit adultery.
Tradition and reason offer nothing to compel us to accept the validity of the gay lifestyle as pleasing to God. Therefore liberal revisionists within the church have turned to the whole notion of experience. The experience of gay couples living in quasi-marital fidelity, professing belief in God, and even exercising caring pastoral ministries is enough proof for them that such a life-style must be acceptable to God. But the reality is that most gay relationships are characterized by promiscuity rather than fidelity and that the heterosexual norm of marriage as exclusive union is the exception rather than the rule. Furthermore, if positive experience of gay relationships and ministry dictates our attitude, then the Church must consciously set God’s Word aside. This is indeed what has happened in many church denominations that have affirmed the gay lifestyle as acceptable for Christians. But if we do this, we must realize that we are effectively in a situation where the church is redeemed from Christ for the world, rather than from the world for Christ. Such a scenario is unacceptable for not only does it put Christ and the Word of God in the role of sinners, but also the whole notion of ‘positive experience’ opens the door to any kind of practice being acceptable in the Church.
True Christian love for gay and Lesbian people means presenting them with the loving message of the Gospel; that we are all sinners; that we all live ungodly lives; that we all deserve God’s judgement and rejection; no one group is singled out in this. It means telling them the same message we tell others; of a Christ who died for sinners and paid the penalty they deserve, that they might go free, experience the mercy, forgiveness, acceptance and love of God. Like the woman caught in adultery (John 8), none of us can condemn others for their sin when our sin is just as real. Like her, the first thing we need to learn about God is not that He desires the death of a sinner, but rather that we might turn from our wickedness and live. As Jesus told her, so through the Gospel he tells us, homosexual and heterosexual, “go and sin no more”. This Gospel is God’s prescription for the life none of us deserve but all of us crave. The Church is the only body in the world that can bring such a message and therefore must never let itself be deflected from it. Therefore, the Church of Ireland must stay true to the Gospel for the glory of God and the ultimate well-being of all men and women to whom it ministers.