Homosexuality

 

Sep

08

2009

Kevin DeYoung|6:38 am CT

No, Homosexuality is Not Just an "Ethical Issue"

Yes this is another post on homosexuality. Believe me I’d rather talk about something else too. I don’t relish the thought of people thinking I’m a nasty conservative. I don’t like the idea of being labeled homophobic. I’d rather spend time encouraging courageous brothers and sisters who battle to overcome their same-gender attraction. And frankly, I’d rather talk about something other than sex.

But every generation in the church has some parcel of truth to defend and this is the plot for the present generation. It sounds nicer to be argue about the doctrine of Scripture or original sin or something less intensely personal. But then again I’m sure those controversies would be no fun either (and probably need to dealt with in our time too!).

So whether we like it or not the controversy over homosexuality is here to stay. Especially in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Especially as long as my denomination continues to hesitate between two opinions.

A Tempest in the Twin Cities
As most everyone knows by now the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voting last month in Minneapolis, approved a resolution allowing gays and lesbians in “life-long, monogamous, same gender relationships” to be ordained. The United Church of Christ (UCC) has gone down this road already. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has flirted with the idea. The official, though not undisputed, position of the RCA is that homosexual behavior is sinful and marriage is between one man and one woman.

These four denominations–the ELCA, the UCC, the PC(USA), and the RCA–share a Formula of Agreement which states, among other things, that we recognize each other “as churches in which the gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments rightly administered to the Word of God.” There are any number of reasons for the RCA to extricate itself from the Formula of Agreement. The recent action by the ELCA is one of the strongest.

Over a week ago I argued that it’s time for a formula of disagreement. Since then RCA spokesman Paul Boice has reiterated the RCA’s commitment to the Formula of Agreement. In an article by the Christian Post, Boice is quoted as saying “Cutting ties with the ELCA over their Assembly’s narrow decision would witness to the world that Christians will fight and divide themselves from one another, and break the bonds of Christian fellowship, over such an ethical difference.” Boice also explained: “The official stances of our two churches [RCA and UCC] differed, and continue to differ today, as with the ELCA.” But, “the difference on this ethical issue did not involve the core of the gospel; in other words, we still recognized one another as churches.” And later Boice argues that “If we began cutting ties with every denomination with which we had a difference, we would be unfaithful to our Lord’s call to seek the unity of his body and do serious harm to our witness and mission in the world.”

Unity Does Not Answer the Question
From what I know about Paul Boice he strikes me as a decent fellow, probably an evangelical in some sense of the word. But his explanation for maintaining official ties with the ELCA is very disappointing.

For starters, playing the unity card is an overused trick. Every Christian in the world believes in unity. We’ve all read John 17 and Ephesians 4, and we know that unity is a good thing. But the question is always “unity with whom and on what grounds?” It’s not fair to position the two options as “maintaining our present ecumenical agreements” or “sinfully dividing over every little difference.” Obviously, some division is not called for. But some is. Sometimes “there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized” (1 Cor. 11:19).

Unity must always be based on truth, and visible external unity must be pursued only with those with whom we share real spiritual unity. Surely the history of the church teaches us that unity is not a simple matter of joining hands with anyone who goes by the name of Christian. Unity with Arians and Gnostics and Socinians is not the sort of unity we ought to prize. Just as there is schism that masquerades as principle, there is also faithless compromise that goes by the guise of unity.

In fact, the whole ecumenical enterprise ought to be challenged as a bureaucratic waste of time. I’m certainly not opposed to Christians of different stripes working and worshiping together. I love my pastors group which consists of a PCA pastor, a Baptist pastor, a Sovereign Grace pastor, and me. Where did we get this notion that unity is only achieved when denominational officials sign paperwork together? And why do we think that leaving denominational agreements means ruining our witness for Christ? Isn’t purity an important witness too?

And let’s be realistic, are lots of new converts being made in the congregations of the World Council of Churches because a watching world can witness our unity? Hardly. The denominational ecumenism of the past 60 years has done little that is relevant to the average Christian in the pew and even less to win the world for Christ because it has been a unity based on doctrinal indifferentism and progressive politics.

The bottom line, of course, is that unity with those who encourage sexual immorality is not the sort of unity Jesus prayed for. Are we really to believe that if the Apostle John and Philip started having sex together in a committed monogamous relationship that Peter (not to mention Jesus) would have been ok with that? Or to put it in similar terms, are we to believe that if John started a church and ordained a man having gay sex with his partner that Peter would have thought, “Well, Jesus said we should be one. So no biggie.”

Come on, let’s be serious. Does anyone honestly think that if we could take a time machine back to 60 AD and we found (what we certainly would not find) Timothy and Titus sleeping together that Paul would have told the other churches “Relax, it’s only an ethical issue”? We can do all the mental gymnastics we want with word studies and the dialectics of Lutheran or Reformed hermeneutics but at the end of the day it takes an extraordinary degree of historical re-invention, not to mention hubris, to imagine the Apostles and the Church Fathers marching in gay parades and defending their associations with those who would.

And then there’s Jesus. It’s hard to imagine that the Son of God who promised not to relax one of the least of the commands of the Old Testament–this same Jesus who lovingly confronted the woman at the well and who upheld the sanctity of marriage in the strictest terms against the liberalizers of his day–would have blessed homosexual intercourse in direct disobedience to Leviticus 18 and 20?

Yes, the Gospel is at Stake
I have argued time and time again that there are not just two sides to the homosexuality debate. There are three: homosexual behavior is bad, homosexual behavior is good, homosexuality doesn’t really matter. The deviousness of denomination-speak blinds many evangelicals who know homosexuality is wrong into tolerating it as ok. In the RCA for example, there is very little chance in the next five years that the majority of the denomination will side with those who argue that same-sex unions are a blessing from God. But many may lack the courage to say that the promotion of homosexuality is flat-out unacceptable. Instead they will be lulled into thinking that we should simply agree to disagree and move on to “the really important issues.”

This is the underlying presumption in Boice’s statements about homosexuality being just “an ethical issue.” And if any RCA folks are reading this, you can be sure that this same argument for toleration of the ELCA has been and will be offered as a reason to tolerate gay marriage and gay clergy in the RCA itself. Too many “evangelicals” end up saying, “Hey, it’s not my thing. I wouldn’t support it. But the gospel isn’t at stake. So let’s not fight over this any longer.”

So why is Boice wrong when he says “the difference on this ethical issue [does] not involve the core of the gospel”? Let me suggest several reasons.

1. Promoting homosexuality is a violation of the catholicity of the church. Sure many in the West are arguing for the legitimacy of same-sex relationships, but for 99% of our history the church has considered homosexual behavior to be sinful. (And before anyone mentions slavery at this point I would encourage him to read Rodney Stark’s book For the Glory of God where he debunks the myth that the church was pro-slavery for 1800 years.) No one had to write a confession about homosexuality, because it was an implied status confessionis issue. No church would have tolerated a difference of opinion, let alone a deviant practice.

True, church tradition is not infallible. But when we make a decision (accepting homosexuality or tolerating those who do) that virtually every single Christian who has ever lived would consider unthinkable, we ought to pause and wonder if we’ve drunk too much from the spirit of the age. We would be wiser to listen to the testimony of our brothers and sisters in the two-thirds world who know that homosexuality is not an agree-to-disagree kind of issue.

2. Homosexual behavior is so repeatedly and clearly forbidden in Scripture that to encourage homosexuality calls into question the role of Scripture in the life of the denomination that accepts such blatantly unbiblical teaching. Luke Timothy Johnson, New Testament scholar and advocate of legitimizing homosexual behavior, is commendably honest when he writes, “I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us.” At its root, support for homosexual behavior is not simply a different interpretation of Scripture, it is a rejection of Scripture itself.

3. Far from treating sexual deviance as a lesser “ethical issue”, the New Testament sees it as a matter for discipline (1 Corinthians 5), separation (2 Corinthians 6:12-20), and an example of perverse compromise (Jude 3-16).

4. Most importantly, commending homosexuality involves the core of the gospel because it urges us to celebrate a behavior the Bible calls us to repent. According to 1 Corinthians 6 unrepentant homosexuals (along with unrepentant thieves, drunkards, idolaters, adulterers, revilers, swindlers, and money-lovers) will not inherit the kingdom of God. Heaven and hell literally hang in the balance.

Of course, homosexuality isn’t the only sin in the world. But I know of no one who is advocating idolatry or championing stealing as a special blessing from God. Yet, many are advocating homosexuality, and the ELCA not officially endorses it. It is not an overstatement to say that such advocacy is in danger of leading people to hell. This isn’t because homosexuals are worse sinners than all the rest, but because unless we all turn from our sin and fight against it in faith–with victories and defeats to be sure–we will face God’s wrath. In tolerating the doctrine which affirms homosexual behavior, we are tolerating a doctrine which leads people farther from God, not closer. This is not the mission Jesus gave us when he told us to teach the nations all that he has commanded.

In short, those who pervert the grace of God into a license for sensuality are false teachers who do not preach the gospel rightly (Jude 4; Titus 2:11-15). A true church does not encourage people in deliberate sin when it ought to call them to repentance.

A Personal Word to My Fellow RCAers
I’ve been in the RCA my whole life. I’m convinced that the best and worst thing about our denomination is that we don’t like controversy. This is good in so far as it keep us from majoring on the minors and focusing on each other’s faults. This is bad in so far as it keeps us from acting decisively and courageously. There are some denominations who can’t say yes to anything. That’s not us thankfully. But we often have a hard time saying no. We are a small group, tight knit, held together by relationships that stretch back into seminary, college, and family reunions. But the word of God calls us to a higher standard than niceness and warm relationships. It calls us to truth and grace–the truth that sets us free and the grace that transforms and forgives.

We are not called to be abrasive and arrogant, harsh and hateful. But we are called to be strong and courageous, willing to do the hard, uncomfortable, painful act of holding each other accountable and saying no to ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2:11). Let us not be cowed into silence by those who claim that all that’s at stake are two different interpretations of Scripture on an ethical issue. There comes a time when we must rule certain interpretations–no matter how sincerely held–out of bounds with Christian orthodoxy, unfaithful to Scripture, and unacceptable in our churches and in the churches we officially affirm.

While we do not want to be deserving of the words, let us not be afraid of epithets like “mean-spirited” and “intolerant.” Jesus himself commended the church at Ephesus because they did not “bear with those who are evil” and hated “the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate” (Revelation 2:2, 6). Besides, If we tolerate homosexual behavior and advocacy in others, we undercut the efforts of men and women in our congregations who struggle–in faith and repentance–to overcome same gender attraction.

Let us refuse to take the easy way out. Let’s not allow what we know to be unbiblical under the auspices of unity and mission. We must not cry “Peace, peace,” where there is no peace. With hearts of love and theological backbones of steel we must not compromise on homosexuality. Adding an amendment to our Book of Church Order in the near future would be one way to settle things, for the good of the denomination and the peace and sanity of all involved. Dropping the Formula of Agreement would be a place to start.

 
 

May

23

2009

Kevin DeYoung|5:18 am CT

A Sermon on Leviticus 18:1-30 (Part 4)

This is part 4 of 4 from my sermon on Leviticus 18. For the introduction to the series where I talk about homosexuality and the Reformed Church in America go here. Part one talked about other kinds of sexual sin. Part two talked about homosexuality. Part three explained why we ought to follow God’s rules.

*****

How should we engage others with these rules in our day?
I know you’ve had enough lists for one day, but let me conclude by quickly giving you a few suggestions for how to engage others with biblical sexual ethics.

First, we need courage. We need courage to say that unchecked, unrepentant sexual immorality cannot be tolerated in the church. We need courage in our churches and denominations to affirm clearly, not just on paper, but in our preaching and actions, that unchecked, unrepentant sexual immorality is to be lovingly rebuked, not celebrated. The peace-loving, conflict-avoiding, middle of the roaders need to courage to stand on God’s word and not compromise for fear of being thought mean, narrow, majoring on the minors, a distraction, or arrogantly self-assured. Young people especially need courage to stick out like sore thumb in their schools and teams and winsomely defend the belief that marriage should be between a man and a woman for a lifetime.

Second, we need humility. We need to check our own hearts to make sure our courage does not become hostility, and our love for the word of God does not become hate for those who disobey it. We need to ask God to show us our blind spots, whether it has to do with divorce, or greed, or self-righteousness. We need to repent of gay jokes. We need to repent of our own sexual sins.

Third, we need love. We need less rage and more tears. We less talk about taking back America and more talk about the grace God extends to all sinners. We need to put down the “turn of burn” signs and put away the apocalyptic rhetoric and be willing to touch–emotionally, socially, and physically–those who sin just like us, even if they sin in different ways than some of us. We need to love enough to listen to those who struggle with sexual sin. We need to love enough to suffer with those who suffer, and possibly in the future, to suffer for our opposition to sexual immorality.

Fourth, we need hope. We need hope that God can change the hardest heart and slowly, over time, change the deepest addictions, habits, and orientations. We need to offer hope–the hope of God’s mercy, the hope of forgiveness, the hope of eternal life, the hope of a warm, truth-filled, grace-saturated church community, that hope of 1 Corinthians 6 that “such were some of you.”

Finally, we need prayer. Pray for our denomination, the Reformed Church in America, that she would not do the easy thing and try to make all sides happy, but do the hard, loving thing and call sin sin so that grace can be grace and God can show himself to be the sort of God who forgives our iniquities, heals our diseases, redeems our life from the pit, crowns us with steadfast love and mercy, and satisfies us with good. Pray for those who struggle with sexual temptation–whether it be pornography, lust, or same gender attraction. Pray that our church would be a welcoming place for strugglers, sinners, and sufferers. Pray for open doors to minister to those who often hate the church–sometimes for bad reasons and sometimes for understandable reasons. Pray for those in the gay community–one of the least reached people groups on earth–that they would be soft to the gospel and we would be ready to love and share the gospel with them. Pray that God would rid us of unrighteous anger, cowardice, compromise, and fear. Pray that the precious, holy, merciful name of Jesus would be hallowed, and that the light of Christ would shine in the dark places in our cities, and in the dark places in our churches, and in the dark places of our own hearts.

 
 

May

22

2009

Kevin DeYoung|5:16 am CT

A Sermon on Leviticus 18:1-30 (Part 3)

This is part 3 of 4 from my sermon on Leviticus 18. For the introduction to the series where I talk about homosexuality and the Reformed Church in America go here. Part one talked about other kinds of sexual sin. Part two talked about homosexuality.

*****

Why does God ask us to follow these rules?
There are all sorts of reasons why God gives us commands and we ought to obey. Let me just highlight three reasons from this chapter.

First, the Lord is holy. Six times in this chapter 18 God says “I am the Lord” or “I am the Lord your God.” The point is “You belong to me. I delivered you. I chose you. I promised to bless you. I am your God. You are my people. So you ought to live by my rules. You ought to be holy because I am holy.”

How you live as a Christian matters a lot to God because you are meant to be a reflection of the God who saved you. You are not your own. The purpose of your life is not your fulfillment, nor your self-expression, nor your sexuality. The point of your life is make much of God by bearing witness to Jesus Christ and by being as much like him as you can.

God’s glory is at stake with your sexuality. The hallowing of God’s name is at stake in our churches. Please do not tell me God does not care about the purity of his church or the holiness of his bride. His Son died to wash us clean. He chose us in him that we might be blameless and holy. When you give up the fight against pornography, when you embrace another lover besides the one you promised before God to be faithful to, when you embrace homosexuality as your “God-given” identity, when you are a champion for calling darkness light, then the God you profess to believe is made to look like the gods of the nations, not the Holy One of Israel. And when the church of Jesus Christ refuses to pursue holiness, with the Spirit’s forgiving and transforming power, and gives in to the spirit of the age, the church has given up on it’s central responsibility: to demonstrate the true character of God to the praise of his holy name.

Second, you belong to a different country. You see this in verse 3: “You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.” Verse 24: “Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean.” The Israelites were not supposed to be like every other nation. So what if the Egyptians did these things? So what if the Canaanites practiced them? They belonged to the Lord and they were to live a different way.

Oh, how we need to this word from God. So what if the academy thinks any kind of sex is fine for anyone, anywhere, anytime? What does it matter what the media say? Why do you have to think just like everyone else in your high school? We belong to a different country. We are seated in the heavenly places with Christ Jesus. We are strangers and aliens in the world. We have an opportunity to stand out, to take a stand–not with some sort of arrogant triumphalism, but in broken-hearted humility, confident that the law of the Lord is perfect, the testimony of the Lord is sure, the precepts of the Lord are right, the commandment of the Lord is pure, the fear of the Lord is clean, the rules of the Lord are true, and altogether righteous. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb. By them we are warned, and in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11).

Third, do them and you will live (5). Verse 5: “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” God is not urging the Israelites to earn their salvation. Remember, God already delivered them from Egypt, he already promised the land, he already had put his love upon them. The life he is talking about is like the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10. The promise here is that the Israelites would experience the blessings of the Mosaic covenant if they walked in God’s ways.

We are not under the Mosaic covenant any longer, so our blessings look at little different, but it is still true that living God’s way is the way of abundant life. For the past 30 years study after study has shown that the best predictor for growing into relational health, personal well-being, and economic prosperity is an intact family, where a mom and a dad get married, have kids, raise those kids together, and stay married. This is not to say the everyone turns out fine from these families or that God does not love other kinds of families. But it is to say, what Leviticus 18 suggests, that God has created the world with a certain moral framework. And to live in that framework, according to those rules, will, on the whole, mean a better life for you. While living outside that framework, against those rules, will, on the whole, mean pain for you.

Satan understand this, which is why he offers the pleasure of sexual immorality as the bait, but he always hides the hook. He won’t tell you that promiscuity can lead to disease, that adultery destroys families, that divorce hurts children, that homosexuality harms the body and does not allow for the creation of life, that incest can produce deformities, that abuse scars the victim and the perpetrator, that pornography enslaves its users. Sexual deviancy undermines the stability of the family, the welfare of society, and the proper development of children. God does not give us rules to keep us from joy, but to guard us from the lasting pain that comes on the other side of fleeting pleasure.

 
 

May

21

2009

Kevin DeYoung|5:11 am CT

A Sermon on Leviticus 18:1-30 (Part 2)

This is part 2 of 4 from my sermon on Leviticus 18. For the introduction to the series where I talk about homosexuality and the Reformed Church in America go here. Part one talked about other kinds of sexual sin.

*****

Sixth, God prohibits homosexual activity (22). We need to spend more time on this one. Sometimes evangelical Christians get criticized for spending so much time talking about homosexuality. “Why don’t you talk about divorce or greed or gossip? Why are you always harping on this sin like it is worse than all the others.” Well, I talk about those sins when they are in the text. But homosexuality is in this text. And besides, the reason we have to talk about this sin in particular is because there are lots of professing Christians, not to mention society as a whole, who are saying that homosexuality is good. Every generation in the church has its issues to deal with. This just happens to be one of ours. There is so much confusion about this issue and so many voices affirming what is wrong and destructive, that we have to spend some time here. I can’t recall ever preaching a whole sermon on homosexuality. It is not some hobby horse for me, but when it comes up in the Bible, we have to deal with it, and if necessary defend the teaching of Scripture.

So here’s the place where I can take this sermon in a number of different directions. I could talk about ministering to homosexuals. I could talk about loving homosexuals. I could get very serious and warn about the judgment that God promises to those with unrepentant sin, like homosexuality. I could appeal to anyone here in sexual sin to repent and come to Jesus Christ for freedom and forgiveness. All of those would be biblical directions to go. But what I want to do at this point in the message is simply demonstrate to you that this verse is still God’s word on same-sex relationships.

There are several reasons we know that God still forbids homosexual behavior.

1) Leviticus 18 appeals to nature. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman…” The implication is that homosexuality is contrary to nature. It’s just not the order of things. Men are supposed to have sex with women, not with other men. That’s how God designed it from the beginning. He made male and female bodies to fit together, to reproduce together. His original design was for a man and a woman to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).

Both Jesus and Paul reaffirm this creation design. Jesus didn’t have to mention homosexuality by name to disapprove of it. Second temple Judaism and the Rabbinic traditions are all absolutely unequivocal in their rejection of homosexuality. Jesus does absolutely nothing to overturn this. Instead he explicitly affirms the normativity of God’s creation design for marriage (Matt. 19:4-6) and goes out of his way to emphasize his submission to the Law and the Prophets (Matt. 5:17-20). God’s design from the beginning was for one man and one woman to enjoy sexual intimacy in the context of marriage.

All sin is offensive to God and renders us liable to judgment (James 2:10), but certain sins, like homosexuality or bestiality, are particularly detestable because they are contrary to nature and pervert the order of God’s creation. It sounds harsh to make that judgment, but the conclusion was self-evident to virtually every single Christian until about 50 years ago.

2) The witness of the rest of Scripture teaches us that homosexual behavior is sinful. Sodom and Gomorrah are used throughout the Bible as examples of particularly heinous rebellion. Their sin was not just being inhospitable, as some liberal Christians like to argue. Jude makes clear that Sodom and Gomorrah sinned by indulging “in sexual immorality” and pursuing “unnatural desire” (Jude 7). The crime at Gibeah in Judges 19 was not just the violence but the desire by men to have sex with men. Romans 1, in listing many sins (all of which need to be taken seriously), makes reference to “dishonorable passions”–women exchanging natural relations for those that are contrary to nature and men likewise committing shameless acts with men (Rom. 1:26-27).

3) Two passages in particular demonstrate the abiding significance of the prohibitions against homosexuality in Leviticus 18.

First look at 1 Corinthians 6:9. The ESV says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality…will inherit the kingdom of God.” The word translated “men who practice homosexuality” is the Greek word arsenokoitai. That same word is used in one other passage in the New Testament. 1 Timothy 1:10 says the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for (among other types of sinners), the sexually immoral and “men who practice homosexuality.” Again, that phrase translates the Greek word arsenokoitai.

That word is only used these two times in the New Testament. In fact, no one used the word at all before Paul. It seems that Paul just made it up. So the question becomes: what does this made up word mean? One article I found online says, “What does arsenokoitai mean? Nobody knows for certain. Arsenokoitai is made up of two parts: arsen means man; koitai means beds. Although the word in English Bibles is interpreted as referring to homosexuals, we can be fairly certain that this is not the meaning that Paul wanted to convey. If he had, he would have used the word paiderasste. That was the standard Greek term at the time for sexual behavior between males. We can conclude that he probably meant something different than people who engaged in male-male adult sexual behavior” (religioustolerance.org). Then the article gives some possible meanings for arsenokoitai: abusive pedophiles, male prostitutes, pimps, maturbators, a boy sex slave, but not homosexuality.

This is the sort of argument you will hear all the time from those trying to defending homosexuality from the Bible. They’ll say, “Look, Paul was talking about pedophilia or sex slaves or man-boy love or something else. But he wasn’t talking about two consenting adults.” This line of reasoning sounds plausible, but it ignores the most obvious place Paul would have gone in order to create this word, the Old Testament. The most natural meaning for arsenokoitai comes from Leviticus 18 and 20. Paul made up the word by combining two words used together in Leviticus. You don’t have to know any Greek to see the connection.

Lev. 18:22 kai meta arsenos ou koimethese koiten gunaikos (“you shall not lie with a male as with a woman)

Lev. 20:13 kai hos an koimethe meta arsenos koiten gunaikois (and whoever shall lie with a male as with a woman…”

Remember, the word in question in 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 is arsenokoitai. Some scholars pretend like we just have to guess as to what this new word means. But it seems clear that Paul, a former Pharisee who knew the Old Testament (including the Greek translation of the Old Testament) better than any other book, combined the two words arsen and koiten from Leviticus to make a new word, arsenokoitai. So Paul was not using a narrow word that refers to only some kinds of homosexuality. He was using a purposefully broad word that referred to any sexual relations between members of the same sex. That’s what Leviticus clearly forbade. And Paul restates the principle from Leviticus in these two places in the New Testament.

In fact, if you look at the context for 1 Corinthians 6, you’ll see that in the surrounding chapters Paul is talking about incest and marriage and sexual immorality. So it would make sense that he has the Holiness Code in his mind. Likewise in 1 Timothy 1, Paul’s list of vices is simply a commentary on the Ten Commandments, so it makes sense that Paul would reference what the rest of the Law says about sexual immorality. Given the Holiness Code in Leviticus, and the unequivocal stance against homosexuality in ancient Judaism, and the clear rejections by Paul and Jude, and the implicit rejection by Jesus–given all of that, I don’t how see any honest student of the Bible can conclude anything except that the Bible considers homoerotic behavior a sin.

Listen to what Luke Timothy Johnson, a well-respected scholar from Emory University and a pro-gay advocate, says about defending homosexuality from the Bible:

The task demands intellectual honesty. I have little patience with efforts to make Scripture say something other than what it says, through appeals to linguistic or cultural subtleties. The exegetical situation is straightforward: we know what the text says. But what are we to do with what the text says? We must state our grounds for standing in tension with the clear commands of Scripture, and include in those grounds some basis in Scripture itself. To avoid this task is to put ourselves in the very position that others insist we already occupy-that of liberal despisers of the tradition and of the church’s sacred writings, people who have no care for the shared symbols that define us as Christian. If we see ourselves as liberal, then we must be liberal in the name of the gospel, and not, as so often has been the case, liberal despite the gospel.

I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality-namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order (Commonweal, June 15, 2007).

Thank God for an honest liberal who, despite his flawed appeal to the authority of experience, can see what everyone should be able to see: the straightforward commands of Scripture prohibit homosexual activity.

Seventh, God prohibits bestiality (23). This will be the next taboo to fall in our culture. It is already considered chic in some artsy circles. The trajectory we are on as a culture, relative to sexuality, is not good. It will not be long before polygamy has no stigma. Not long before incest is tolerated. Not long before bestiality is considered avant garde. Not long before pedophilia goes mainstream. Western culture is one of the grandest, most impressive civilizations to have ever existed, but our inability to put sexual impulse in its proper place may prove to be our undoing.

 
 

May

20

2009

Kevin DeYoung|5:08 am CT

A Sermon on Leviticus 18:1-30 (Part 1)

This is part 1 of 4 from my sermon on Leviticus 18. For the introduction to the series where I talk about homosexuality and the Reformed Church in America go here.

*****

The second half of Leviticus, from chapter 17 onwards, is sometimes called The Holiness Code because its all about how the Israelites were to live as God’s holy people. Leviticus 19:2 gives the theme for this whole section: “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” Chapter 18 in particular is about holiness as it relates to the family and sexual activity. The Bible actually has a lot of say about sex. Sex is among the greatest gifts God has given to us. It is also the source of more pain and temptation and destruction than almost any other force on the planet.

Sex is like a car. Cars make life better. They enable you to travel long distances and live in different places. You can visit your family more easily. Cars can go real fast. They look cool (some of them anyway). Most people will eventually drive a car. But there are rules. You need to be a certain age. You need to get training and take a test. You need a license. You have to follow traffic signs and stay in your lane and obey the speed limit. The rules are not to keep you from enjoying the car. The rules exist so you and everyone else can drive safely. If you don’t know how to handle the car, or you don’t follow any of the rules of the road you will get hurt. And likely, others will get hurt as well. The rules aren’t meant to confine you, but to help you.

Sex is like that too. Sex is fun and, no lie, makes life better. But only if you know the rules and enjoy sex in the right way, with the right person, in the right context.

I have three main questions to ask from this passage. 1) What does God require of us regarding sex and the family? 2) Why does God ask us to follow these rules? 3) How should we engage others with these rules in our day?

What does God require of us regarding sex and the family?
Leviticus 18 doesn’t tell us everything we need to know, but it gives us the basic rules.

First, God prohibits incest (6-17). The principle is pretty straightforward: a man may not marry a close blood relative or any woman who becomes a close relative through marriage. Specifically, a man may not marry his mother or step-mother, his sister, sister-in-law, half-sister, or step-sister, his granddaughter or step-granddaughter, his step-daughter or daughter-in-law, or his blood aunt or his aunt by marriage. Curiously, the one relationship missing from the list is daughter. This is because the surrounding cultures already prohibited marrying one’s own daughter, and the Israelites already knew sex with a daughter was wrong from the story of Lot’s two daughter having sex with their father in Genesis 19.

Marry close relatives is wrong because you are either uncovering your father’s nakedness, or your own nakedness, or the nakedness of your family. And when people marry into the family, they become your family. And uncovering the nakedness of your family is a perversion of God’s order for the family. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebuked the church for tolerating the sexual relationship (marriage?) a man had with his father’s wife. So incest is still depravity (Lev. 18:17) in God’s eyes.

Second, God prohibits taking a rival wife (18). Having two sisters for wives did not work out well for Jacob. It is against God’s law.

Third, God prohibits whatever makes you unclean (19). This is the one verse that people reference when they want to throw out the rest of the chapter. “How can you say homosexuality is a sin? What about the part about not having sex during menstruation? Clearly, these are just cultural laws and we don’t have to follow them anymore.”

The first thing to say in response is “maybe we shouldn’t ignore this command.” I don’t think this command is still binding, but I think you can make a much, much better case for following every law in this passage than for following none of them. Jesus said he didn’t come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them. So we better have a good explanation for how Jesus fulfills a particular law before we decide not follow it anymore.

In this case, the key phrase in verse 19 is “menstrual uncleanness.” Husbands should not have sex with their wives in their menstrual uncleanness. So the question is whether menstruation still makes a woman unclean. Menstruation was not a sin. Rather, the loss of blood made a woman (and any man who touched her) ritually unclean. But with the coming of Christ, the sacrificial system is gone, the need for a temple/tabernacle is gone, and the priesthood is gone. The whole system which required ritual cleanness is gone. Therefore, menstruation doesn’t make a woman unclean anymore, because the whole system has been blown up.

Cleanness still matters in the New Testament, but it becomes a moral category instead of a ritual one. Cleanness refers to those acts that are morally pure in God’s eyes. So the abiding principle here is that whatever sexual activity makes you unclean is unfit for God’s people. But blood loss no longer makes one unclean.

Fourth, God prohibits adultery (20). Don’t get hung up on the word “unclean” in verse 20 and think that adultery doesn’t matter anymore. In the Old Testament, not all uncleanness was sin, but all sin made you unclean. So adultery wasn’t wrong because it was unclean. It made you unclean because it was wrong. This is obvious from its inclusion in the Ten Commandments and from Jesus’ own teaching in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus didn’t relax the law about adultery. He made it harder. Not only is intercourse a sin, but according to Jesus lust is also a sin.

Fifth, God prohibits killing our children (21). Molech was a pagan god and there is archeological evidence showing that people sometimes had their children pass through fire as a sacrifice to Molech. It may seem strange that this law is here when all the other laws are about sex. But remember the broader category has to do with the family. These rules about sex are rules to protect God’s design for the family. So this law is here to tell parents that their children are precious and not be used to further their own plans and desires.

 
 

May

19

2009

Kevin DeYoung|5:53 am CT

Death by Dialogue

I don’t often post my sermons because (1) sermons don’t usually make for good blog posts, (2) the people from my church reading my blog already heard the sermon, and (3) I don’t usually have a sermon manuscript anyway. But for several days this week (starting tomorrow) I’m going to post the sermon I preached on Sunday (May 17) from Leviticus 18. Leviticus 18, as you may know, is about holiness and sexuality. I didn’t single out this text to preach about sex. But I’ve been doing a series on Leviticus for several months now. So when the next chapter comes you preach on it.

The reason for posting the sermon over several days is because the issue of sexuality is so controversial in our day and in need of clarity. In particular, the issue is hotly debated in my denomination, the Reformed Church in America. Most of you aren’t a part of the RCA or even familiar with it, which is fine. But some of my readers are from the RCA. If so, I encourage you to follow these few blog posts carefully and even consider passing them on to others in your church, classis, or RCA networks.

A Little History
The RCA has consistently affirmed that homosexual behavior is sinful. In 1978 the General Synod approved a paper entitled “Homosexuality: A Biblical and Theological Appraisal.” The paper was not perfect, but it did make statements like “Paul’s rejection of homosexual activity is beyond question” and “we cannot affirm homosexual behavior.”

In 1990 the General Synod adopted R-11: “To adopt as the position of the Reformed Church in America that the practicing homosexual lifestyle in contrary to scripture, while at the same time encouraging love and sensitivity towards such persons as fellow human beings.”

In 1995 the General Synod approved that a faithful summary of the RCA position on homosexuality includes, among other statements, that “Homosexual behavior is not God’s intended expression of sexuality.”

In 2004 the General Synod adopted R-92: “To affirm that marriage is properly defined as the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.”

And in 2005, in an unprecedented trial before the whole General Synod, three charges were heard against a Minister/Professor of Theology who had performed a “wedding” ceremony for his lesbian daughter. The charges were upheld by a 2-1 margin and Synod voted to depose Rev. Dr. Kansfield as a Professor of Theology and suspend him as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.

But the issue of homosexuality in the RCA has not gone away. Following the 2005 General Synod, the denomination entered into a three year process of dialogue. In 2006 there was confusion and some consternation about who would provide supervision and pastoral care for Rev. Dr. Kansfield. In 2007 controversy erupted again when the woman chosen to preach three times at Synod was found to be an outspoken advocate of gay marriage. This June, the General Synod will gather for its annual meeting and get a report from the dialogue coordinator and steering committee.


The Conversation to Nowhere
In one sense the dialogue report doesn’t do much, at least not on an official level. But the longer we dialogue around an issue, the more legitimacy is given to both sides of the issue. The report bears this out. The report reads, in part:

The dialogue also worked in the sense that it revealed the great complexity of RCA members’ views on homosexuality. Widely scattered views emerged as the steering committee and coordinator listened to the ways in which RCA members talked about homosexuality and about their lives in the church. These many views were treated as “voices” within the RCA that are speaking, as it were, around a table, concerning homosexuality and church life.

Additionally, the dialogue succeeded in the sense that it equipped participants to engage each other more sensitively and charitably on future issues that may threaten to be divisive. A dialogue experience yields a set of skills that the church can use, perhaps primarily at the local-church level, whenever an emotionally loaded issue must be addressed.

In the matter of homosexuality, no consensus emerged among RCA members as a result of the dialogue program. Therefore no policy recommendations to the General Synod appear in this report. The church’s ability to handle its deliberations regarding homosexuality has improved, at least among those who participated in the dialogue’s events. This ability was among the purposes which the General Synod Council (GSC) specified when it authorized the program in 2005.

Notice how dialogue has served to undermine the frequently states position of the RCA. Several times over several years, the RCA has affirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman. True, there is a sizeable minority that disagrees with this stance. But now through dialogue the majority opinion has been marginalized as just another voice at the table. The point of dialogue in mainline denominations is never to decide anything, but rather to share stories and “perspectives”. The process of dialogue predetermines its outcome. There will be no resolution, except the resolution not to resolve anything. The “can’t we all just get along” crowd always wins in this kind of dialogue.

Thus: “The dialogue coordinator and steering committee recommend that the General Synod postpone further policy deliberations regarding homosexuality and that the materials developed in this program be made available in appropriate form for future use by the church.” Several overtures to Synod this year urge a similar approach: to refrain from any legislative and policy decisions and instead to engage in further dialogue. Dialogue, the reports argues, “does not yield policy decisions—except in the instance in which a consensus emerges from the dialogue process.” And as you might imagine, “In the matter of homosexuality, no consensus emerged in the RCA as it engaged in the dialogue program.”

Here’s how it usually happens in mainline denominations: a biblical position regarding homosexuality is on the books, it gets reaffirmed several times even as opposition to it grows, the opposition party is not the majority but they are loud so everyone decides to talk things over for a few years, it is discovered (surprise!) that people don’t agree on the issue, then more dialogue, then those opposed to the official denominational position ask for tolerance or for everyone to “trust the system” of checks and balances, the “system” at the local level refuses to uphold the denominational position, more pleas for everyone to get along and not let this “secondary” issue divide us, more deviation from the official position, further dialogue, official tolerance for the unofficial position, conservatives are labeled as divisive, judgmental troublemakers, a call for denomination wide healing is made, followed by urgent pleas to move on to more important matters, and finally people move on feeling glad this “difficult chapter in our life together” is over, the official position–whether officially or unofficially–is no more.

Three’s a Crowd
What everyone needs to see is that there are three positions on homosexuality any given denomination can take: 1) Homosexual behavior is sinful. 2) Homosexual behavior is to be celebrated. 3) We can allow for both positions. Denominations never get to 2 except by going first to 3. If people in the RCA had to vote between 1 and 2, I’m convinced two-thirds would vote for 1. But what happens is that position 3 gets advertised as they sane, wise, loving, above-the-fray position perfectly positioned between two extremes. Conservatives lose their resolve, get tired of fighting, and get cow-towed into thinking “Maybe this doesn’t really matter. Maybe we should just get on with church planting. Why not keep talking about this for another three years?”

Postponing hard decisions always feels good, but it not always best. My hope and prayer is that the RCA will reject any recommendations for more dialogue and quickly (perhaps voting on something definitive at the next General Synod) give constitutional permanence and weight to the previous actions of Synod.

At the very least, I hope the RCA will stop hesitating among three opinions. If the denomination is to ever move on from this issue, a firm decision needs to be made. I say, make it soon and make it clear. Then give everyone grace to decide if the RCA still feels like home.