Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - Same-Sex Relationships and the Church (Part 9)

In the final few blogs in this series, I want to address briefly some of the church and pastoral implications of God’s view of same-sex relationships. Books have been written on these subjects, so this will only be an overview, but I hope useful all the same.
So far we have seen that God reveals his will to us in his word the Bible. If we’re Christians we accept that God is always right and always in charge, so we submit to him, which means submitting to the teaching of the Bible (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). We have then surveyed the teaching of the Old and New Testaments to see a consistent picture that God defines same-sex relationships as sinful and thus (like other sin) persisting in sin without repentance will lead to exclusion from the kingdom of God, i.e. someone who does not repent cannot claim to be a Christian or have the hope of eternal life (Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8).
In this blog, I want to address briefly how this view brings us into conflict with our society and the implications that has. In particular, I will reflect on this as a case of Jesus’ teaching Matthew 24:9-14.

Conflict with Society

The first thing to recognise is that to take this view is to stand squarely against the flow of much of 21st Century British society. You only have to consider Sunday night television shows such as Grantchester or Call the Midwife, both of which have a substantial element of “Christianity” on the one hand and both of which have introduced gay characters who are presented as pursuing legitimate loving relationships against the backdrop of old-fashioned and hateful prejudice (often from the church!). The message is clear, get with the program of unequivocally supporting all same-sex relationships, or you are an old-fashioned hypocritical bigot.
This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus tells us that in the time before he returns his followers will be hated by all nations (Matt. 24:9), even to the point of killing them (thus far we should be very thankful in the UK that things are not this hard!).
We should, however, be prepared for the ire of those around us, whether media, school, friends, colleagues or family. We need to be prepared to feel and in fact be a minority view. For what it’s worth, it seems to me that it is barely possible to have a reasonable and responsible discussion with people on these questions at the moment.

Conflict in the Church

This pressure will have an impact on churches. Jesus speaks of people falling away, betraying each other and hating each other (Matt. 24:10). This is exactly what we’ve seen within the church.
Many simply can’t cope with the pressure and fall away. This can be a literal falling away in that they no longer attend church and no longer call themselves Christians, specifically because of this issue. They might talk about the church being hypocritical or hateful or bigoted.
There can also be a conceptual falling away. People may continue to attend and continue to take the name Christian, but change what they believe (and perhaps seek to change the churches that they attend or lead). This is still falling away - if you change the message of Jesus, whether you still want to be in church and take the name Christian or not, you are not following Jesus! This can be particularly dangerous, because the goal is often to take as many people as possible with you.
Not surprisingly this causes internal conflict in the churches. A quick glance at recent synod debates, blog discussions and book publications will show you the level of betrayal and hate within the walls of the institution of the church.
Again, we must be prepared for this rather than surprised by it. Sometimes we have naive and idealistic views of the church. Unity is an important concept for the church in the Bible, but it is unity in the truth God has revealed to us (see e.g. Eph. 4:1-6). Where that truth is lost there is no unity, but division and that division leads to strife.

The Rise of False Teachers

Fuelling the strife in the church are those in positions of responsibility, particularly those responsible for teaching, who on the one had fail to teach the truth on controversial issues like this and on the other capitulate to the views of society and start to teach error.
Again, Jesus tells us to expect such “false prophets” (Matt. 28:11) and again this is in the church. They are particularly dangerous of course, because, as Jesus says, they take many people with them. Of course they do! The attractive thing about the false teacher/prophet is that they tell you what you want to hear and most of us want to hear that it’s OK to still be Christian, but also believe the same things that the rest of society believe. That way we won’t have to face their hatred!
On the issue of same-sex relationships you will, roughly speaking, find three types of false teacher
  • One type will say that modern Christians don’t need to believe the Bible any more. We have, if you like, evolved to understand that parts of it are wrong and with our superior knowledge we can now choose not to believe certain things. This kind of view is disastrous in every way, because it makes us rather than God the ones who define what we believe. If we think that is a good idea we are fools.
  • A second type will say that we must still believe the Bible, but on this issue we’ve interpreted it wrongly. There are all manner of different approaches to “reinterpreting” the Bible to fit our preferences (something we’re all inclined to do!). I hope the previous articles have shown how difficult it is to do that on the issue of same-sex relationships. Perhaps the most common approach at the moment is to suggest that same-sex attraction and relationships in the Bible and in Bible times are of a different kind (especially abusive) than now. This is historically inaccurate and, as we’ve seen, doesn’t deal carefully enough with the text.
  • A final type seeks to suggest that it is legitimate to have different views and that our view on this issue isn’t something that affects the central things of the gospel. This usually involves introducing some doubt about what the passages teach as in the previous type of false teaching. I hope we’ve seen that such doubt is not found in the texts and also that to take the wrong view on unrepentant sin is central to the gospel (e.g. Rom. 1:18-32; 1 Cor. 6:9-10).
Again, we need to be prepared. There will be many teachers and leaders in the church who are false. We need not to be naive and idealistic. This is true in our diocese, in the Church of England as a whole and across the Anglican Church throughout the world. Ordination as a deacon or a presbyter, appointment as an area dean or archdeacon, or consecration as a bishop does not ensure that someone is a faithful teacher. Jesus warns us to beware!

The Need to Endure

So what does Jesus want us to do in these situations? He tells us to endure (Matt. 24:13). We need to stand firm in the truth and keep going whatever it costs, however unpopular it is. It is those who endure who God will use to complete his mission in the world to proclaim the gospel to the world (Matt. 24:14)
Enduring is the opposite of falling away and being a false teacher. It will undoubtedly be tough. However, it comes with the startling statement that only those who do this will be saved in the end. The implication here is that if you fall away or if you are a false teacher you will not be saved
Enduring may be hard, but it is ultimately worth it!
Now same-sex relationships is far from the only area that Jesus teaching applies to, but it does happen to be one significant area in this time and place. We need to be prepared for the hatred of the world and the falling away and false teachers in the church. Most of all we need to endure in the truth. It is only in so doing that we will be saved.

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