Same-Sex Marriage and the Church’s Response

INTRODUCTION

There is no need to explain the devaluation of marriage in modern American culture. The degradation is not behind closed doors; the media runs rampant with headlines of ‘progressive’ (ironic to the Christian) legislation, picketers on courtroom steps, caricatures of ‘bigoted Christians,’ and the like. Any American who has had access to a television, computer, smart phone, newspaper, and is not living under a rock blindfolded is fully aware of the current situation.

Nonetheless, the summation of the culture’s current view of marriage can be expressed in one short sentence: marriage is the state recognized union of two people. This definition most notably does not exclude same-sex marriage, and here is the extent of the conflict. Christian marriage is much more exclusive; it necessarily qualifies marriage with additional restrictions – e.g., marriage is 1) between one man and one woman and 2) its authority is primarily rooted in God’s ordination. Such restrictions are rooted in the biblical description of marriage, which is the source of concrete truth for the Christian faith.

The Christian church has dealt with the contrast is a variety of ways. Some congregations “have joined the movement – even becoming advocates of homosexuality – while others stand steadfastly opposed to compromise on the issue.”[1] There are also those congregations that run somewhere in the middle of the two extremes, perhaps even ignoring the issue. It is the purpose of this study to determine what the church’s proper response to this cultural trend should be. Let the option for ignorance or negligence be first excluded.

The church is not afforded the opportunity to stand by as the culture redefines and devalues the institution of marriage. There are several reasons why this must be true: 1) the church is called to influence and penetrate culture – to live in the world, influencing it with the gospel for the glory of God – not idly forming a ‘fun club’ or subculture for Christians. 2) Marriage is the foundational institution responsible for the structure of the family; and since the family is the foundation for a culture, the survival of culture hinges on this deliberation. 3) In their silence, the church is permitting the authority of morality and marriage to be rooted in societal preference rather than the Creator and his divine word. 4) The culture’s current view of marriage is not the greatest benefit to society’s prosperity, and the biblical view of marriage is the greatest good for society. Many more purposes could be put forth, but these few suffice in removing the option for the church’s ignorance or negligence.

The question becomes: how then should the church interact with the culture’s redefining and devaluing of marriage? In true simplicity, the church’s response should occur in two stages: 1) identify the cause and root of the issue, and 2) reinforce the correct family structure with a gospel-centered perspective through biblical clarity and biblical expectations.

THE CAUSAL AND CENTRAL ISSUE

To best identify the current cultural view of the family and marriage, it would be best to analyze the progression of culture in the past century. The legal push for same-sex marriage is not some whimsical fad that arose out of nothing. As William Kynes notes in his article, culture has been noticeably leading up to the current view of marriage for the past fifty years.[2] Kynes begins with the sixties’ ‘sexual revolution,’ where sex was no longer coupled to procreation, and marriage was stripped of one of its most intimate idiosyncrasies. Thus there began a rise in cohabitation, which statistically increased children out of wedlock, single parents, and divorce. Flash forward to 1985 when ‘no-fault’ divorce was instituted, and it becomes apparent that the ideals behind marriage had shifted from legal and moral responsibility to personal fulfillment and happiness. Kynes exposes that the present day prevalence of the gay rights movement and same-sex marriage is only the culmination of the morphed ideals of the past. Being that the institution and definition of marriage has gone through much legally and socially affirmed transformations, the Christian idea of the institution is pushing against forty-plus years of cultural reasoning – this is no easy hurdle to overcome.

Yes, the culture has been shaping their contrast to biblical marriage and family for several decades, but why has this occurred? What is the cause for this drift from the biblical description marriage? To be blunt and straightforward, the church needs to recognize that this issue of contrasting biblical truth is beyond cultural differences. The culture does not agree with biblical truth because they do not believe the Bible to be true, and thus they do not submit themselves to the authority of the Bible. There are only a handful of options in regard to the biblical teaching on marriage: 1) the Bible is not the word of God, and the culture is free to disregard its authority concerning the institution of marriage, or 2) the Bible is the word of God, and the culture is held to the standards that it depicts.[3] Someone’s position (either option one or two) is the necessary presupposition to identify in any conversation of biblical ethics or definitions regarding marriage and family. If one does not believe the Bible to be the word of God, then there is a different route to take in regards to addressing the definition of marriage (perhaps providing natural reasons for the superiority of heterosexual marriages in regards to family structure, anatomical compliment, and societal health). The church cannot expect the culture to abide by the definition of marriage found in a book they do not believe to be true. The conversation of biblical accuracy may need to preface the conversation of its authority in regards to marriage.

What is the teaching of the Bible? What does ‘God’s Word’ say about marriage? The most apparent interpretation of the Bible, consistent with literal-grammatical hermeneutics, determines that God ordained marriage (cf. Genesis 2:24-25; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9) to be between one man and woman (cf. Genesis 1:27; 2:24-25; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9) to typify and model the relationship between Christ and His church (cf. Ephesians 5:22-23; Isaiah 54:5; Hosea 2:19; Revelation 19:7-9; 21:9-14). Marriage also includes procreation (Genesis 1:28; Psalm 127:3; Ephesians 6), the implementation of proper gender roles (cf. Genesis 2:18; Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9; Ephesians 5:22-23; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7), happiness (cf. Proverbs 18:22; 20:6-7), an opportunity for sanctification (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:1-16), and it is an honorable institution (Hebrews 13:4-7). Moreover, the Bible marks the act of homosexuality as sinful, opposing God’s design throughout both the Old and New Testament (Genesis 19:1-11; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Jude 7). James B. DeYoung interestingly states, “The Bible is unique in its condemnation of all homosexual behavior.”[4]

As of late, there have been some formidable refutations to the literal and apparent understanding of the Bible in reference to marriage and homosexuality. For example, some liberal interpreters read Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:28 “that there is no more ‘male and female’ in Christ as a warrant for same-sex marriages.” This text, however, is not primarily addressing the institution of marriage, but is emphasizing the equality of Jesus’ redemption to all races, genders, and people groups. Goldingday thus concludes, “the use of this passage in a discussion of marriage amounts to presenting a straw man.”[5] In other texts referencing the ‘inclusion of the Gentiles’ (Ephesians 3:1-6), some offer that this means the condoning of homosexual behavior in Christ. However, the inclusion of the Gentiles never infers an acceptance to their behavior, but an adoption into Christ, which necessitates a ‘new birth’ or ‘new creation’ (cf. John 3:3; 2 Corinthians 5:17; 1 Peter 1:3-4). Perhaps the strongest verse for biblical marriage is found in Ephesians 5, where the typological essence of marriage is linked to Christ and the Church. The attacks on the literal interpretation of this text are horribly deduced, but the buttress of this text’s literal interpretation is found in the proceeding context of Ephesians 6 and its mention of children. The natural flow from marriage to children must presuppose marriage between a man and a woman, where the anatomical opportunity for children is possible.

The debate over biblical hermeneutics in regards to same-sex marriage and homosexuality will continually increase; there is hardly room in this analysis to present the overly creative and misguided interpretations of the topic in Scripture. However, there is a motive driving these misinterpretations. People are seeking to insert their desired truth into the text rather than submitting to the apparent and uncomfortable truth of the literal and grammatical reading of the text. Obviously, biblical clarity or adherence to the biblical texts is not ‘sufficient’ for the culture to change. Austerely, it is because there is an issue of authority; therefore a third option: 3) the Bible is the word of God, but the culture is apathetic to its authority because they are apathetic to God’s authority.[6]

To convince the non-Christian of the Bible’s accuracy is not an end in itself, but rather a means to an end. Even if the church can produce a persuasive argument for the Bible’s truthfulness, this will not solve the issue. Christians cannot be chiefly satisfied with convincing someone of the Bible’s accuracy, because the aim is to present the Bible’s truth as to make room for a submissive heart, which is generated by the Holy Spirit’s conviction. Even deeper than the disregard to biblical authority, culture’s non-Christian ethics primarily stem from sinful hearts, set on rebelling against God and exchanging the glory of their creator. The homosexual’s greatest need is not heterosexuality; their greatest lacking is the grace of God’s salvation rooted in the redemption of Jesus Christ found in His Scriptures. Homosexuality is a consequential issue; the sinner’s rebellious heart is the primary concern and the causal issue for disregard to biblical authority and all unethical behavior. As Rosaria Butterfield so profoundly explains in her autobiographical story of her conversion, heterosexuality is not the solution to homosexuality. The church is not seeking coverts from homosexuality, but rather converts from unbelief. Although Rosaria was redeemed from her homosexual lifestyle, she claims that the greatest work of God’s grace was His transformation of her rebellious heart.[7]

It can be concluded, the church’s concern with same-sex marriage is deeper than correcting a sinful behavior. The chief end of the church is to glorify God within the culture, which consists in pointing rebellious hearts to the gracious and sanctifying redemption of Jesus Christ. Same-sex marriage is only the result of this deep issue of the culture’s lack of the gospel truth. The church must recognize the need in regards to its causation, or they will be left to insignificantly address symptoms, leaving the central concern – the sinful heart – endlessly surpassing the external ethical modifications. As John Owen notes, “It is true, it is – it will be – required of every person whatsoever that hears the law or gospel preached, that he mortify sin. It is his duty, but it is not his immediate duty; it is his duty to do it, but to do it in God’s way.”[8] The gospel precedes mortification (death of sin), because the Spirit is the only means of mortification, and the Spirit is only given through the gospel – by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. “There is no death of sin without the death of Christ.”[9] The unregenerate man’s immediate work is conversion, not mortification. Sin’s condemnation must first be loosed, and this is done through God’s justification of man. When Peter is asked what to do in response to the gospel, he does not say to mortify this and this sin; he calls them to repent and be baptized – be converted (cf. Acts 2:37-28). Mortification before conversion is like pruning thorns. No matter how much you prune a thorn, it still cannot bear fruit. ‘Make the tree good, and his fruit will be good’ (Matthew 12:33). “The root must be dealt with, the nature of the tree changed, or no good fruit will be brought forth.”[10] Practically, in dealing with unregenerate men, do not forsake addressing their sin; rather “drive it up to the head, and there deal with him. To break men off particular sins, and not to break their hearts, is to deprive ourselves of advantages of dealing with them.”[11] This is not to deny the need of mortification. If anything, it is honoring its necessity more by properly giving men the correct path to pursue it. As Owen says, “I take not men from mortification, but put them up to conversion.”[12]

Having identified the central and causal issue regarding culture’s devaluing and redefining of marriage, one can proceed to those items that the church can execute in addressing the culture’s need.

THE CHURCH’S AIM

A helpful way to elucidate some practical action items is to present some things the church should not do. 1) The church should not expect non-Christians to live out Christian ethics, and thus should not specifically cast judgment in this regard. ‘For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?God judges those outside’ (1 Corinthians 5:12-13a). To clarify, it is not wrong to compassionately alert a homosexual that they are sinners, but judgment is reserved for God; the Christian is permitted to exercise mercy and grace. When the Corinthians wanted to speak of judgment, Paul directed it back to the Christian congregation. Today, if the church wants to judge, let them judge the thirty-eight percent of Christian marriages that are getting divorced, disgracing the sanctity of marriage inasmuch, if not more, than same-sex couples.[13] 2) The church should not solely make this a legislative or governmental issue. From the Christian perspective, same-sex marriage is mainly a moral issue, not first and foremost a legal one. Yes, a society cannot have legislation apart from morality; the emphasis, however, must be on the deeper issue – i.e., the moral decision that is guiding the legislative opinion. Do not disregard the legislative element, but do not let it rule the deliberation.[14]

In the simplest sense, the church cannot change the hearts of those within the culture. The Holy Spirit is ultimately responsible for the salvation of sinners. Nonetheless, God has ordained it so that His bride is the means to the Spirit’s conviction. Thus it is permitted to speak in a way that the church can actively pursue the salvation of those non-Christians in culture. The church’s engagement with culture must be rooted in their dependency on the Spirit; and within their dependency on the Spirit, the church will not seek to shortsightedly implement ethical standards on the culture apart from the Spirit’s greatest concern – i.e., the sinner’s salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith is the aim, not behavioral modification. Above ethics, the Christian is seeking to implement biblical faith in the heart and mind of the non-Christian (all within the dependency of the Holy Spirit, of course). For Christianity, faith is necessary to virtue; it is the essence of Christian ethics and the decisive predecessor to pleasing God. ‘Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23). ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God’ (Hebrews 11:6). It is impossible for those who do not have faith in Jesus Christ to act virtuously. If the church aims at anything resultant to faith (ethics), their efforts will be spiritually futile. Faith unites man to God; God is good. If man is not united to God, who is the source and emanation of all goodness, then they are left with shallow and false imitations of virtue. Conclusively, the church must interact with the culture towards its greatest need (lack of faith), by the power of the Spirit, whose greatest work is stirring faith in the hearts of people. This is the only means for the church to uphold the sanctity of the biblical institution of marriage.

CONCLUSION

The Holy Spirit moving Christians to actively engage in the Great Commission will only solve this issue. The church must be reaching out in love and compassion, showing the culture that Christian marriage is an aspect of “human flourishing,” not simply a list of rules that they desire to tyrannically impose on others.[15] The means to correction is evangelical in nature, and the greatest evangelism is Christians growing in sanctification. Christians must desire to ‘only’ (μόνον, monon) live in a manner worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27), and one of the greatest pictures of the worth of the gospel is found in the marriage relationship (cf. Ephesian 5:22-23). If the Christian wants to impact the culture’s view of the value of marriage, let them begin by exulting in the gospel picture of their own marriage, with the husband loving the wife, and the wife submitting to the husband. The greatest testament to God and one of the best manifestations of the Holy Spirit’s work of faith is the sanctification of God’s children; and sanctification consists in faith, hope, and the greatest of these, love.

[1] R. Albert Mohler Jr., “The Compassion of Truth” in Trained in the Fear of God: Family Ministry in Theological, Historical, and Practical Perspective, eds. Randy Stinson and Timothy Paul Jones (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2011), 90.

[2] William L. Kynes, “The Marriage Debate: a Public Theology of Marriage,” Trinity Journal 28, no. 2 (2007): 187-190.

[3] The debate as to whether it a homosexual is born with the sexual orientation is really beside the point. Indeed if the homosexual was ‘born that way,’ the whole Christian understanding of hamartiology, anthropology, and the gospel does not exclude the necessity for man to contradict his natural desires. C. S. Lewis explains in a letter to Sheldon Vanauken: “our speculations on the cause of the abnormality are not what matters and we must be content with ignorance. The disciples were not told why (in terms of efficient cause) the man was born blind (John 9:1-3): only the final cause, that the works of God should be made manifest in him. This suggests that in homosexuality, as in every other tribulation, those works can be made manifest: i.e. that every disability conceals a vocation, if only we can find it, which will ‘turn the necessity to glorious gain.’” Quotation found in Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 146-148.

[4] James DeYoung, Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2000), 14.

[5] John Goldingay, Grant LeMarquand, George R. Sumner, and Daniel Westberg, “The Traditionalist Response.” Anglican Theological Review 93, no. 1 (2011): 94.

[6] As a Christian, one should realize that this is impossible; nevertheless, it appears that liberal scholars are seeking to preserve this ideal.

[7] Rosaria’s story can be found in her book Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor’s Journey Into Christian Faith (Pittsburgh, PA: Crown & Covenant Pub, 2012).

[8] John Owen, Overcoming Sin and Temptation, ed. Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 79.

[9] Ibid., 79.

[10] Ibid., 81.

[11] Ibid., 85.

[12] Ibid., 84.

[13] Statistic taken from: Bradley R.E. Wright, Christians Are Hate-Filled Hypocrites …and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2010), p. 133.

[14] For a great discussion on the state’s interest marriage, see Kynes, “The Marriage Debate: a Public Theology of Marriage,” 198-203.

[15] Lisa Fullam, “Toward a Virtue of Ethics of Marriage: Augustine and Aquinas on Friendship in Marriage,” Theological Studies 73, no. 3 (2012): 691.

 

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