I mentioned in an earlier post that I am not particularly keen on political campaigning on this issue. There is a reason for that- in 1 Corinthians 5:12, the apostle Paul asks this question- “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?” I don’t particularly want to preach to the non-Christian world about homosexuality: I desperately want to talk to the whole world about how great Jesus is, about the evidence for his life, death and resurrection and about the vital importance of following Him.

Within the church, though, it is different- as Paul goes on to make clear in that verse. One of the reasons I have shared some of my own struggles is that I wanted to make a stand on this issue. I feel compelled to join the voices that insist that the Bible teaches that sex is for marriage between a man and a woman even where that is challenging for me. I want to say that the Christian church has to stand on the Scriptures for our own Lord and Saviour, Jesus- who is the centre of the universe- affirms them. This is against the backdrop of an increasing number of voices within the church arguing for the legitimacy of homosexual relationships. I appreciate that some of those speaking out have had difficult experiences themselves living with homosexual desires and I sympathise. However, I want to say clearly that the path away from Biblical teaching is not a path to life.

What is my problem with those within the church arguing for the legitimacy of homosexual relationships? In part I think their understanding of Romans 1 is very weak. When Paul describes homosexual relationships as unnatural, he isn’t just critiquing people who engage in homosexual relationships that are unnatural for them (i.e. those who are heterosexual by orientation.) Rather, he is saying that homosexual relationships break the natural order established by God at creation- for that is the context of that whole section of Romans 1. Frankly, for me to teach the revisionist view of Romans 1 would mean I would have to give up being a Bible teacher for I would be throwing out all the normal principles of how to read a text.

But it goes deeper than that. As I have listened to the arguments put forward for homosexual relationships within the church I am coming to the conclusion that there are fundamental differences here about the whole shape of the Christian message. I think there are four ways at least in which the revisionist approach has been deficient.

1. Creation but no Fall

“God made me like this.” To be honest, I could never use those words to describe my own sexual orientation for it denies a biblical worldview. Of course, humans are made in God’s image (and to be fair, we have underplayed this at time as evangelicals) but after the Fall it is a flawed, broken and marred image. My sexual desires that are not in line with God’s plan in creation are part of that brokenness. As David would tell us centuries ago (Psalm 51:5) humans are steeped in sin from birth and I would suggest that spending time with a two year old who wants their own way should be a sufficient indication of that!

The fact that a number of Christians swallow a line such as “God made me like this” concerns me- for they are not a million miles away from asserting that humans are basically good. If that is the case, why do we need a Saviour to come from heaven? Don’t we instead need a motivator to encourage us to live out our innate goodness? There is a fundamental problem here.

It might be that some are reading this and are frustrated. If only I could accept my sexuality all would be so much better for me. But I wouldn’t encourage you to feel sorry for me. I am a sinner but deeply loved, flawed yet accepted, broken yet destined for glory. I don’t have to keep up the pretence that I am naturally better than I am for I have a Saviour who has loved me and given Himself for me. I am thankful for a worldview of creation, fall, salvation and final glory for it explains both the world and my nature- and it is not a kindness to encourage me to give up on it.

2. Discipleship but no Cross

“We can’t expect people to give up their rights to an intimate relationship.” I think there is sometimes a sense that to ask those with homosexual desires to be celibate is to ask too much- it is almost cruel. The problem is that you would have to include Jesus in that category. It just so happened that in the week when I mentioned some of my sexuality issues to the church I was preaching on Luke 14:26-27:

If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters- yes, even his own life- he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross cannot be my disciple.”

Of course, you acknowledge a certain hyperbole here. But you would be hard pressed to say that Jesus guarantees a right to a happy family life whilst being a disciple. The call is to die- to give up our rights, our privileges, even our very life in order to be his disciple. Christians in other parts of the world know what that looks like. So I am somewhat baffled by what sort of Jesus couldn’t possibly insist that people give up their right to a sexual relationship. It is not the Jesus of the Gospels.

And- to be honest, I don’t want to be called to give up my cross. For it is the path to life. “Whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Mark 8:35). Jesus makes further promises actually for those who will be prepared to give up their rights to a family:

““Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)

It is actually one of the reasons why I enjoyed preaching about friendship on Sunday- for my experience is that the Lord has been true to His promise. I may have given up my right to a sexual relationship but the Lord has richly blessed me in other ways.

3. Popularity but no Revelation

“We have to change our belief in order to be relevant.” Certain passages that I have preached over the last few months seem to have taken on special relevance in the light of this issue. A couple of months ago I took the church through the beginning of 1 John 4. I was particularly struck by v.5 where John says that the false teachers are “from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them.”  False teaching will be more popular than true teaching (the world listens to them) and will sound more like the opinions of popular culture (they speak from the viewpoint of the world.) I made the point that false teaching is basically worldly opinion with a Christian gloss. Indeed, because there is an inevitable time lag, it is slightly embarrassing- false Christianity is worldly thinking ten years late. On the evening I preached the passage I didn’t make the link to changes in attitude towards homosexual practice but it was certainly in my mind. It is another reason why I am deeply sceptical of any change in our teaching- the world has changed its mind and all of a sudden we discover that we have been reading the Bible wrong for the last 19 centuries. Really?

Of all the New Testament writers, John draws the line most starkly. You can listen to the world or you can listen to God. They are fundamentally different voices. It seems to me that to argue for a change in the church’s teaching is to argue from a position of chronological and geographical arrogance- the west in the 21st century is right on this issue. To be candid, I would rather stick to those who were with Jesus (1 John 4:6) and were commissioned by Him to record His teaching- including His affirmation of Genesis 2:24. Only if I am trusting the revelation given by God to those first apostles can I be confident that I am not creating God in my own image as a 21st century westerner. I don’t want a bigger version of myself or an idealised version of our contemporary culture. I want the God who came down in Jesus- and trusting the teaching of the apostles is the only way to get to Him. And this is the Jesus who teaches marriage as a permanent relationship between a man and a woman.

4. Present but no Eternity

“This relationship makes me happy.” But I want to say that the Gospel is significantly skewed if we regard happiness in this life as the goal. It is so much bigger and better than that. Again, as I have heard revisionists argue for a change in the church’s teaching, I have been struck by how human-centred it is (which I picked up last time) and how focused it is on this life. Is the goal of life for the Christian happiness now? Surely not. Otherwise Christians down the ages who have faced severe persecution in this life have been fools. So were Peter’s readers who suffered grief in all kinds of trials but with the hope of an inheritance that can never perish, spoil and fade (1 Peter 1:4-6). If the Gospel only offers happiness now then I am a bit disappointed- frankly there are loads of other things that can do that for me. No- the Gospel points to our eternal satisfaction in the marriage of Christ and the church for eternity. Our focus is to be there.

As I listen to contemporary voices in the church, my fear is that we will end up wrong not just on sexuality but on a load of other things as well because the arguments being used reflect a Christianity that is very different from the one outlined in the Scriptures- and a smaller, more paltry Christianity at that.

But as I draw to a close I want to suggest that there might be challenges here for those of us who hold to a traditional viewpoint on homosexual practice. Are there personality defects we smooth over with a “God made me like this”? Does our discipleship look cross shaped? Have we just swallowed our culture’s materialism and individualism if not its sexual ethics? And do those around us see people consciously living for another world?

One of the objections raised to a traditional understanding of sexuality is that it forces Christians with homosexual desires to make sacrifices that other Christians don’t make. The response to that shouldn’t be to change our sexual ethics- it should be to ensure that we use the language of sacrifice and ultimate gain as normal discipleship for all Christians.