Gay Christians?

Introduction
Is it appropriate to speak of “Gay Christians.” Is it appropriate to speak of “Murderer Christians” or “Thief Christians” or “Idolater Christians”? When the adjective “gay” refers to homosexuals, the expression “Gay Christian” is an oxymoron. Remarkably, Millennials (18–34) may be almost entirely unaware of the older, original sense of “gay,” i.e., happy. Equally remarkable is the fact that it now seems widely accepted that the practice of homosexuality is quite compatible with a Christian profession. There is even a “Gay Christian Network” internet program. They must be right, after all famous evangelical celebrities have endorsed them. Is that not how truth and reality works? If one gets enough influential people to endorse one’s views and practices, then that makes it true, right?

This is the fallacy Argumentum ad baculum or the appeal to force. A million Frenchman can be wrong. Most of the Germans supported the Third Reich. Most of the Japanese supported the Emperor in World War II, including the attack on Pearl Harbor. All those folks were wrong. Mass movements are often wrong. Ideas and practices become accepted for a variety of reasons but their acceptance, even widespread acceptance doesn’t make them true or right.

Of course whether my comparison between homosexuality and theft or murder holds depends on whether homosexuality (i.e., homosexual activity) is, in fact, sin. There are essentially three approaches to this question:

  1. The Bible Doesn’t Speak About Homosexuality
  2. The Bible Approves of Homosexuality
  3. The Bible Regards Homosexuality As Sin

Whole volumes, of course, have been written on this question over the last 30 years or so and a single blog post cannot sort them all out but there is strong prima facie evidence that views #1 and #2 are wrong.

What Scripture Says About Homosexuality
Leviticus 20:13 (ESV) says,

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination

The Hebrew Bible can be blunt but it can also be restrained, polite and in this case, some have used its politeness, its restrained language against it. In this case, however, the Hebrew Bible is a little more explicit than the even more polite ESV translation. “A man that lies [with] a male [in] bed [as] a woman….” The intent seems pretty clear. The concern is not with two guys taking a nap. The verb “to lie down” is used euphemistically in Hebrew to refer to sexual relations and the inclusion of the adjective “male” and the noun “bed” make the intent clear. There was also a civil punishment attached to this prohibition: death. No one was going to be killed for sleeping but they could be put to death for same sex (homosexual) relations. An “enlightened” and “liberated” (late) modern person might not like what the text says but it was clear enough in its original context to serve as the basis for criminal prosecution (on the basis of 2 or 3 witnesses) and capital punishment.

One might object, “But that’s the Old Testament. We’re not under the Old Testament any longer.” Well, that’s true but it’s irrelevant to the question: does the Bible speak to homosexuality (i.e., homosexual activity)? Leviticus 20:13 is in the Bible and it speaks to homosexuality. Ergo #1 is false. Does the Bible approve of homosexuality? Leviticus 20:13 describes homosexuality as an “abomination” ergo, no, the Bible does not approve of it. No, Jonathan and David were not homosexual lovers. Not every natural, expression of masculine affection is a signal of homosexual attraction or relations. One could only read that narrative this way in our perverse, over-sexualized culture.

It is true that the Old Testament, strictly defined as the Mosaic Covenant, the 613 commandments of the national, temporary, typological revelation of God to national Israel, has been fulfilled by Christ. Nevertheless, the Christian church has always rejected the notion that there are two Gods in Scripture, a mean Old Testament God and a nice, loving New Testament God. That was the view held by the Gnostics in the 2nd century AD and later by the Manichaeans. It was rejected as heresy in both cases because the New Testament explicitly teaches the contrary. The Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4 says,

Hear O Israel, Yahweh our God, Yahweh is one

The NT quotes or alludes the Shema. Our Lord Jesus quoted it in Mark 12:29. Paul alludes to it in Romans 3:30, in Galatians 3;20, and so does James in James 2:19. The New Testament uses the same language for God that the OT uses. The NT regularly quotes the OT regarding God’s disapproval of sin and even, e.g., Hebrews 12, intensifies its language about God’s hatred for sin and the coming judgment. No one preached about the coming judgment more than Jesus himself.

There are not two Gods in Scripture and though advent of Christ did fulfill all the types and shadows under Moses, all the sacrifices and civil laws and punishments, and though the national covenant with Israel has expired, nevertheless, Leviticus 20:13 does still communicate God’s moral disapproval of homosexuality.

Further, the New Testament continues to condemn homosexuality. In Romans 1:26–27 (ESV) Paul writes:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

As in Leviticus, Paul is clear but relatively polite or restrained in his language. That restraint, however, cannot be used to argue that the passage does not speak to or against homosexual acts. The context is established in v. 18 where Paul writes, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” So, he is elaborating on the theme of God’s moral disapproval of sin. He proceeds to give examples of egregiously sinful behavior. In v. 23 he gives idolatry as an example. In v. 24 he turns to sexual immorality, to “the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves” which he connects again (v. 25) directly to idolatry. Violation of the first three commandments is connected to the violation of the seventh commandment. Thus, the context is idolatry and sexual immorality. Women exchanging “the use according to nature” (την φυσικην) for that which is “outside of nature” (παρα φυσιν) is a reference to sexual behavior. Paul wasn’t complaining about economic (business) behavior or ordinary domestic questions. In v. 27, he includes men in his complaint. Thus, both Lesbian acts and male homosexual acts are included and condemned. The frame of reference is sex and the boundary is nature, that which is of use or profit (χρησιν). Homosexual acts are biologically fruitless, they cannot produce children. According to Paul, the only product of homosexual activity is the “due penalty” for the activity.

He is even more pointed in 1Corinthians 6:9 and 1Tim 1:10, where he condemns the “αρσενοκοιται.” The standard definition (Bouer, Arnt, Gingrich, Danker) is “a male who practices homosexuality, pederast, sodomite.” This is the way the word was understood in early Christian, post-canonical usage though it occurs in the same sense in the Sibylline Oracles (6th cent BC) ii.73. See Moulton and Milligan s.v.

Of course, we want to avoid the etymological fallacy (deducing the meaning of a word by adding up its letters or component parts) because it does not always work and can produce misleading results but in this case it works because usage confirms what adding up the letters suggests. αρσην  = male and κοιτης = bed or euphemistically for sexual relations.

However uncomfortable it makes us late moderns, the text of 1Corinthians 6:9 is quite clear:

“Or do you not know that the unjust (αδικοι) will not inherit the kingdom of God? Neither will you who deceive (πλανασθε) nor the sexually immoral (πορνοι) nor idolaters (ειδωλολατραι), nor adulterers (μοιχοι), nor the effeminate (μαλακοι), nor homosexuals (αρσενοκοιται).”

I translate μαλακοι as “effeminate” because of the way it is used in the LXX (the Greek translation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Scriptures) for the “soft parts” and is used elsewhere in the sense of “effeminate, of a catamite, a male who submits his body to unnatural lewdness, 1 Cor. 6:9” (BAGD, s.v.).

Paul was quite familiar with Corinth as a fairly depraved, cosmopolitan port city and he was well aware of the sorts of sexual immorality that were openly practiced there as elsewhere (e.g., Ephesus had pornographic graffiti that would make us blush). It seems clear that one thing, effeminate men who submit themselves to sexual abuse, perhaps homosexual prostitutes, led him to the last category, homosexuals.

Paul is announcing God’s judgment on several classes of sinful behaviors and warning those who commit them impenitently (without sorrow or struggle) that they must acknowledge their sin for what it is and turn to and put their trust in Jesus the Savior who obeyed and died for heterosexual and homosexual sinners and who offers free acceptance with God on the basis of faith (trust) in Jesus, the gracious Savior of helpless sinners.

So, there is ample biblical evidence that, taken in its original context, understood according to the intention of the human authors and in its broader canonical context (the Old and New Testaments together regarded as one, unfolding story of redemption and revelation) for the conclusion that the Bible regards homosexuality (i.e., the sexual acts) and even male effeminacy, i.e., the now widespread so-called “gender bending” that blurs the lines between males and females) as sin.

Creation Is Inherently Good
Above I sketched the biblical evidence for the claim that homosexuality is a sin. In this part address the argument that some make in defense of the notion that there are such things as “gay Christians” is the appeal to providence: “God made me this way, therefore it cannot be wrong.” First, the premise is false and second, the conclusion doesn’t follow from the (flawed) premise.

Since there are practicing homosexuals who profess Christian faith, let us get back to basic Christian doctrine. According to Genesis 1, God created all that is by the power of his Word. Everything he created was “good.” Indeed, between v.1 and v. 31 the text says six times that creation was “good” or “very good.” In the beginning, in creation, before the fall, there was no human sin. There was spiritual corruption, among the angels, prior to Adam’s fall but Adam was not sinful nor did he have sinful proclivities. There was no disharmony between Adam and Eve or between them and nature. It is essential to understand this reality as best we can because our tendency is to imagine that the fallen world we know now is the way things have always been. We should not, however, read our experience as fallen, sinful, rebellious creatures back into creation.

Thus, no, it is not true that “God made me this way.” All sin, including homosexuality, is a consequence of the fall but God did not make anything fallen. Our sinful dispositions, attitudes, and acts are the consequences of our fall in Adam. We sin because we’re sinners. On analogy with the other sins forbidden by God’s law, why can’t the idolater, the covetous, the thief, the heterosexual fornicator or adulterer or the murderer make the same argument? Of course he can’t! God has not violated his own law. God did not sin. He did not corrupt the world. We did.

“That may be,” one might argue “but isn’t God in control of all that happens? If so, why did he ordain that I should be born with these inclinations?” Again, as a consequence of the fall, every human is born with sinful inclinations. There are as many ways to transgress God’s law as there are imaginations and people. We are deeply corrupted by sin. Every faculty of our soul is corrupted by sin. We do not think as we ought. We do not will as we ought and we do not love as we ought. By nature, Scripture teachers, we are inclined to hate God and our neighbor.

The Mystery of Sin
If one asks if I can explain how God can be sovereign over all things and not morally liable for the evil that happens in the world, I reply by saying that is a great mystery to which no one has ever offered a completely satisfactory answer. Scripture does address it plainly in Job 38 and Romans 9. The short answer is that God says that we sinful humans do not have standing to charge him with injustice. We are not competent. Further, whatever our difficulties with the mysteries of providence, it is not as if God has not fully involved himself in our predicament. God the Son graciously became incarnate, faced every temptation we have faced (Heb 4)—indeed he knows temptation in a way we can never know in this life because he did not succumb to it! Are you willing to shake your fist at Jesus, who obeyed, died, and was raised for the justification of sinners? Only a fool says yes.

There are other reasons to think that it’s not true to think that homosexuality is normal. Most of the studies (here is a recent study) I have seen suggest homosexuality is usually connected to serious dysfunction in one’s nuclear family. Alcoholism, sexual abuse, neglect (physical and emotional) are factors. Though the statistical likelihood of homosexuality does not seem to be much greater than it has been for decades—by now surely everyone knows that the old Kinsey numbers were badly skewed by their sample population!—homosexuality surely plays a vastly more prominent role in our culture than it did just a few years ago. There is obviously a correlation between the breakdown of the nuclear family, the rise of divorce, the rise of substance abuse (drugs and alcohol) and the general collapse of the culture and the increased visibility of homosexuality in popular culture and in the educational establishment. There may be a small percentage of a given population born with a biological proclivity to homosexuality but that is probably true for other disorders and sins. Remember, it was not very long ago that homosexuality was listed in standard psychiatric diagnostic manuals as a treatable disorder. The evidence hasn’t changed but the political-cultural-social-economic influence of homosexuals has. We should be honest about the increased economic clout of homosexuals. They compose an economically attractive market. They tend to be more highly educated, with a higher disposable income (no kids to feed) and they spend. Mass media = advertising. All of it is advertising. The entertainment and news programs all serve advertisers and most advertisers only care about the quarterly earning reports. They do not care about the social consequences of their programming and advertising. Sometimes Marx is right.

Further, even were it true that “God made me this way” it does not follow that, therefore the moral law no longer applies. No one is permitted to leverage the clear, unequivocal teaching of Scripture with his private interpretation of providence or natural revelation. Scripture clearly teaches that homosexuality (as defined in part 1) is sin. It’s against nature. The claim that “God made me this way” does not grant one permission to violate the clear teaching of Scripture. Your interpretation of providence might be wrong. It is clear enough that it is wrong.

Conclusions
Every Christian has sins with which he must struggle. Jesus did not call the Christian life a daily crucifixion for no reason. Those tempted by homosexuality are no more exempt than heterosexual sinners from this call to discipleship. Thieves must daily repent of their desire to steal (instead of working). The covetous must daily repent of their desire to have what God has not given them. Idolaters must repent of their desire to make a god in their own image. Liars must repent of their desire to control outcomes by twisting the truth.

The culture always approves of one sin or another. Right now, homosexuality is fashionable. It is the current way to rebel against God but fashion isn’t necessarily truth or righteousness. Of course we should rather see homosexuals embrace the Christian faith than repudiate it but it must be the whole Christian faith and not an edited version conveniently amputated of its moral teaching.

The Necessity And Limits Of The Imitation Of Christ

There is no question among orthodox Christians, i.e., those who believe and obey God’s Word, who believe the catholic creeds, who have a substantial connection to the ancient church, whether Christians ought to seek to imitate Christ. The questions are how do we imitate him and to what end? This has been a topic of some discussion on the HB. I wrote an 8-part series distinguishing between Jesus the Savior and Christians as his saved. Yesterday I tweeted (yes, I know, it’s a funny verb) some comments about the difference between Jesus’ “faith” and ours, that Jesus’ faith is “not the pattern” for ours. That comment received some pushback, as they say. Some of the respondents made a fair point. “Pattern” was too ambiguous. The truth is that there are continuities and discontinuities between Jesus’ “faith” and ours. Thus, as you might have noticed, I put the word faith in quotation marks to signal some discontinuity between Jesus’ “faith” and ours, not to suggest that Jesus did not have faith but to signal that his faith was qualitatively different from ours because he is qualitatively different from us.

There are analogies between our faith and Christ’s but I stand by my original point that we should be very cautious about talking about Jesus’ faith and ours as if they are the same thing. They are not the same thing because Jesus was not a sinner who needed to be saved from the wrath of God and we are not the Savior. Yes, Jesus may be said to have exercised faith. He trusted his heavenly Father but the trust he exercised was not that trust that we, by grace alone (salvation and faith are a gift) exercise. Jesus’ trust in his heavenly Father cannot be said to have been a gift. He was not born in need of regeneration, i.e., he was not born dead in sins and trespasses. He was not in need of being raised spiritually from death to life. As we’ve seen in the recent posts (and here) on the Heidelberg Catechism, God the Son was born innocent, righteous, and holy not for himself but for us (pro nobis). All his righteousness (HC 60) is credited to believers so that it is as if they themselves had done all that he did. In Christ, sola gratiasola fide, it is as we had never sinned or had any sin. Jesus trusted that his Father would keep the covenant (pactum salutis) they made before all worlds (John 17), that his Father would vindicate him, i.e., that he would recognize his Son’s inherent and perfect righteousness.

When we talk about our faith, we’re talking about the faith of fallen, sinful, mere humans. We are not inherently, intrinsically righteous before God. We are righteous only on the basis of Christ’s righteousness imputed. That is why Genesis 15:6, “Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness” is applied repeatedly in the NT to believers, to Christians, and not to the Christ. Yes, when we believe, we are certainly trusting that our Father will keep his promises to us but those promises are made to us in Christ and we are praying in Jesus’ name. When Jesus prayed, he didn’t need a Mediator. Jesus is the Christ and we are his Christians. These are two distinct classes.

There are two dangers in talking about the imitation of Christ: 1) moralism; 2) moralism. Let me explain. In the exchange  it was claimed that “Christian” (Χριστιανός) means “little Christ.” That’s not not quite correct. It means “a follower of Christ.” The word occurs only 3 times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16) and it never means “little Christ.” That some think this way, however, illustrates the first danger, that of confusing the Christ and the Christian. That tends toward self-salvation, which is an impossibility. It is either born of a denial of the fall and its consequences (Pelagianism) or from downplaying the effects of the fall (semi-Pelagianism, Romanism, Arminianism). In the case of Pelagius, he set up two great examples for all humans to follow: Adam and Christ. He denied that “in Adam’s fall sinned we all.” He said that we’re all born Adam and that we may, if we will, do what Adam failed to do: obey God of our own will unto glory. The Apostle Paul, however, took a very different view (see Romans chapters 1–5; Eph 2:1–4). According to Paul, when Adam sinned, we all sinned in him and when he died spiritually, so did we. By nature, after the fall, we are incapable of doing anything toward salvation. We are utterly helpless. To blur the line between Jesus and his people, then creates the impression that if we only pulled a little harder on our bootstraps, we can imitate Jesus unto acceptance with God and glory. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

The second danger is closely related to the first, that of turning Jesus into the first Christian. Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834) did this by attempting to redefine Christianity as the recovery of Jesus’ religious experience. Some of liberals who followed him, as Machen noted, blurred the line between Christ and the Christian by making Jesus into the first Christian do-gooder. That he was not. He did good but not toward an earthly utopia, not merely as a prophet, but as the Savior of sinners and by way of inaugurating the kingdom of God. The kingdom, however, in the interregnum, is largely invisible and especially to those who seek a kingdom of power and glory before the consummation. Jesus disappointed Judas and he continues to disappoint those who continue to cry for Bar-Abbas.

Both of these dangers are quite present today. On the one hand, there is a reaction to antinomianism both real and perceived that tends to blur the line between Christ and Christian by talking incautiously about Jesus’ faith and ours, without explaining clearly the qualitative difference, as if Jesus had faith in just the same sense as we. That is a great mistake. We also face pressure to blur the line from those who, in various ways, want to see Christianity expressed more visibly in the world in concrete ways. A century later, we’re having the same discussions about the Social Gospel that we had in the early 20th century. It’s frequently said now that our Christianity may just as well be seen as heard. In two words: uh, no.

We need to make some distinctions:

There is Imitation of Christ: Faith hath two eyes; one lookes to Christs merits that we may be saved; the other to his righteousness that we may be sanctified. In Imitation there be two things, Action and Affection. Action, for it is not enough to commend and admire the patterne, but we must follow it. Affection, for it is not enough to forgive because we cannot revenge. This is no sufficient imitation of Christs love; for he can, if he please, bruise sinners to pieces, and q break them.1

Thomas Adams made a great point. We look first to Christ’s merits for us and then only should we talk about imitation but talk about it we must.

Above we began to look at a very necessary distinction in the way we talk about the imitation of Christ. It is undeniably true that Christians seek to imitate Christ but, as Adams wrote, we look to Christ with two eyes, as it were. First we look to him as Savior. If we fail to do this, we run the risk of falling into the Socinian error, as Samuel Rutherford noted in 1655.

The Socinian faith which looks to an exemplary Martyr whom God of no justice, but in vain, and for no cause delivered to death but of mere free pleasure whereas there might be, and is forgiveness without shedding of blood: contrair to Heb. 9. 22. Rom. 3. 24, 25 &c. even good works done in imitation of Christ.2

There are other ways to abuse the truth that Christians imitate Christ. The early English Presbyterian Thomas Cartwright warned about one of them:

RHEM. 7. [17. Tha character or the name.] As belike for the perverse imitation of Christ, whose image (specially as on the Rhood or crucifixe) he seeth honored and exalted in every Church, he will have his image adored (for that is Antichrist, in emulation of like honour, adversary to Christ) so for that he seeth all true Christian men to beare the badge of his Cross in their forehead, he likewise will force all his to have an other marke, to abolish the signe of Christ. 3

The abuse here is to violate God’s law and justify by calling it “imitation.” These “imitations” are, of course, improper. We may not do as we will and call it the “imitation of Christ.” He alone determines how he is to worshipped and adored. The sorts of things of which Cartwright complained grew out of the medieval attempt to replicate the life of Christ, which quest failed to honor the distinction between the Savior and the saved, between the Christ and his Christians.

Jesus is more than an example but he is, in certain, important ways, an example to us to imitate. Here we come to the other eye, of which Adams wrote. William Perkins points us in the right direction as we seek to understand how it is that we imitate Christ. We do so not as “little christs”, not in order to be accepted by God, but because he is the Christ and because we have been accepted. As such, by his free favor alone, through faith alone, by the Spirit we are united to him. We imitate him thus:

First, as Christ Jesus when he was dead rose againe from death to life by his own power, so we by his grace, in imitation of Christ, must endeavour our selves to rise up from all our sins both originall and actual unto newnes of life. This is worthily set downe by the Apostle, saying, We are buried by baptisme into his death, that as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glorie of the Father, so we also should walke in new nesse of life: and therefore we must endeavour our selves to show the same power to be in us every day, by rising up from our owne personall sins to a reformed life. This ought to be remembred of us, because howsoever many heare and know this point, yet very few do practise the same.4

We seek to die to sin and live to Christ. This is the basic structure of the Christian life. Perkins made clear the distinction between Christ and the Christian. He rose again “by his own power.” We endeavor to “rise up” metaphorically from our sins. We are identified with Christ in baptism, to the end that we might walk in the new life, in Christ. We imitate the Savior by seeking to live as saved people.

Herman Witsius is also helpful here.

LXXXIX. But yet, as it is very desirable to have likewise an example of perfect holiness upon earth; so God has not suffered us to be without one; for he sent his own Son from heaven, who hath left us the brightest pattern of every virtue, without exception, “that we should follow his steps,” 1 Pet. 2:21. It was a part of Christ’s prophetical office, to teach not only by words, but by the example of his life, that both in his words and actions, he might say, “learn of me,” Matt. 11:29. The imitation of him is often recommended by the apostles, 1 Cor. 11:1. 1 Thess. 1:6. 1 John 2:6.

We are not accepted by God because of virtues formed in us by grace and cooperation with grace. That was the medieval theology and piety that the Reformers and Reformed Churches rightly rejected but we did not reject the notion that God does form virtues in us. Christ did set an example for us. As Witsius noted, that’s the clear teaching of Scripture.

Still there are distinctions to be made in the way that talk about imitating Christ.

XC. It has been very well observed by a learned person, that we are to distinguish between imitation, whereby we are said to be μιμηται, imitators of Christ, 1 Cor. 11:1; and between following, by which we are commanded to follow Christ; between “follow me,” Matt. 16:24, and “follow after me,” Matt. 10:38. For the former denotes a conformity to an example: the latter, the attendance of servants going after their masters; which words are generally confounded by writers in their own language, though they ought by no means to be so.5

The death we are die is real but figurative. When Christ called us to take up his cross, he was not calling us (as they do in the Philippines each Spring) literally to be nailed to a cross. That’s why we don’t take pilgrimages to Jerusalem to re-trace the steps of Christ. That borders on superstition. We are to walk in his footsteps as he obeyed his Father and as he loved his neighbor. The death we are to die daily is to sin.

The norm for our Christian life is not, as noted above, what we imagine we should do in order to imitate Christ. Rather, we are to think of ourselves as his servants who attend to his Word. We obey him according to his command and we imitate him in the way that he instructed. As we seek to imitate him it is ever with the consciousness that it is he who has saved us and not we ourselves—not even in cooperation with grace. Our imitation is in recognition of the categorical distinction between Christ and Christian, Savior and saved.

NOTES

1. Thomas Adams, A Commentary Or, Exposition Upon The Divine Second Epistle General Written By…St. Peter (1633), 14.

2. Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened, 285.

3. Thomas Cartwright, A Confutation Of The Rhemists Translation, Glosses And Annotations On The New Testament, 734.

4. William Perkins, An Exposition Of The Apostles’ Creed, 243–44.

5. Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man: Comprehending a Complete Body of Divinity, trans. William Crookshank, vol. 2 (London: T. Tegg & Son, 1837), 44–45.