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Thursday 8 May 2014

Some Questions on Gay Marriage

I have decided to take the advice of one of the leading women in my church and seek to address some of the questions around the issue of gay marriage. This topic is a heated one, and I ask that you read through to the end before you make your judgment on what I have to say. If you are a Christian I also ask that you compare what I have to say to the Bible. Here we go:

 Question One: Is Gay Marriage Biblical?

The short answer is no. But why? Well because in the Bible, marriage between a man and a woman, is a representation of the relationship God has with his people. This is developed throughout the word of God. It begins in Genesis, where it says God created male and female in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28), the relational nature of human beings is a living picture of our God who himself lives in eternal relationship (which is also developed throughout the Bible). Then, in Genesis 2:24-25 the Bible says this, “24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. 25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” God created marriage, initiated marriage, and blesses marriage between a man and woman. This is then picked up again throughout the Bible and expanded. For example, we see God representing Israel as his bride in Ezekiel 16, and 23, and then as his wife in the book of Hosea. We also read various laws in Deuteronomy and Exodus about how married couples should treat each other. Even a few of the Ten Commandments relate to marriage; children are to honour their father and mother (Ex. 20:12), adultery is forbidden for God’s people (Ex. 20:14), and you should not covet your neighbour’s wife (Ex. 20:17). All these commands assume marriage between a man and a woman. Enshrined in these ancient words is the fact that God considers marriage between man and woman to be awesome, and good. In fact “he who finds a wife, finds what is good and receives favour from the Lord” (Pro. 18:22). Marriage is a blessing, a great blessing.  

But what about polygamy Matthew? The Bible permits polygamy, we have got you there mate! Maybe, but consider this, while the Bible does not explicitly forbid polygamy, it does regulate it, and it teaches that it is not the ideal, or God’s preferred intention for marriage. The Kings of Israel, who set the tone for the nation were not supposed to take many wives (Deuteronomy 17:17) a commandment many of them broke. The most memorable King who did this was Solomon who had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3)...which means he must have been a tired man for so many reasons. But even more importantly, especially for Christians who live under the New Testament, not the Old, Jesus re-enforced the original ideal:

“4 ‘Haven’t you read,’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” 5 and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”?  6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’” Matthew 19:4-6  (NIV)

In this famous passage Jesus declared what marriage is, and therefore we know what it is not. God created us male and female, for this reason, marriage is between one man and one woman, and this union should not be broken, except in the case of adultery (cf. Matt 19:7-9) or a non-believing spouse leaving the believing one (1 Cor. 7:15-16). So by Jesus' own words, a union between a man and man, or a woman and a woman cannot be a marriage, and polygamy is also implicitly forbidden. 

Of equal significance is the fact the apostle Paul said a leader in the church must be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:6). This teaching is found throughout the New Testament, especially in Paul’s letters where over and over again he acknowledges the husband/wife relationship as fundamental to marriage (cf. Eph. 5:22-6:4; Col. 3:18-21; 1 Tim 3:2, 5:1-16; Tit. 1:6). So this is why Christians have never practiced polygamy, even though people in the Old Testament did. From the passages we have looked at, the Christian position is clear, marriage is between one man and one woman, and note I have not even mentioned every passage regarding marriage in the New Testament.

Question Two: Is Homosexuality A Sin?

The fact that the Bible teaches sex outside of marriage is a sin, and that marriage between a man and a woman is what marriage is, in reality means we do not need one text which says homosexuality is a sin because it is already logically excluded based on these facts alone. But our awesome God gives us not just what we need in his word, but goes above and beyond that. Homosexuality is a sin, this is seen clearly in the Old Testament in Leviticus 18:22, 20:13. Also, Genesis 19, and Judges 19 both show that God does not look favourably on homosexual behaviour. It must be stated that while the Old Testament is God’s word, Christians live under the New Testament, therefore we are not bound to enact the punishments that the ancient Israelites were commanded to practice on those who broke the Jewish law. We now live under the law of Christ, and the way Christians are commanded to treat people is very different to the way Old Testament Israelites were. 

But the sinfulness of homosexuality is also seen clearly in the New Testament, I want to focus on 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, in particular: It says,  

“9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”

Without going into too much detail, where it says “nor men who have sex with men”, they have translated a couple of Greek words which refer to both the passive and active partners in male homosexual sex. Therefore, the very act of homosexuality is, biblically, a sin. But notice this, especially all you Christians who have some kind of bone to pick with homosexuals; sexual immorality, idolatry, greediness, theft, drunkenness, are all mentioned in this same passage. In other words homosexuals are not some special class of people we should pick on. The way some Christians have treated homosexuals in the past is down right wrong. In reality, from the Christian perspective, homosexuality is just another form of sexual sin like sex before marriage, or adultery.

Let me put it another way, to break it down for you: no one has ever got into heaven because they are heterosexual (I believe I got that from Timothy Keller). What gets people into heaven is repenting from sin, placing our trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, and receiving his Holy Spirit who renews us and makes us children of God. Whatever one’s past sins are, there is always time to trust in Jesus. There is no special class of sexual sin which excludes people from trusting in Christ. Even Paul points out that some of the Corinthians were homosexuals before they became believers, but because they had been made righteous, they should no longer live that way (1 Cor. 6:11). So yes homosexuality is a sin, but it is one among many, and Christians should definitely not persecute homosexuals.  

Question Three: Should This Biblical Teaching Influence Political Policy?

The answer: yes, and no! What the Matthew? How can it be yes and no? Well in a Christian society, where the Christians are the clear majority, the church is the primary influence behind society’s laws, and the Bible is the basis of the countries morality, then it is only natural that we would not legalize same sex marriage. After all we have seen above what the Bible teaches. Christian societies in the past even had laws against homosexuality, some of which went way too far in my view and often denied the humanity of those the laws persecuted, which in my view is un-Christian. But we do not live in that society any more. Christians need to realize that Christendom is long gone. Sadly, so many Christians are still living in the hang-over from Christendom, when Christianity, at least in name, if not deeds, influenced the major powers of the world. But that time is as dead and buried as the Brisbane Lions hopes of winning a grand final. Do you want to hear the honest truth, my brothers and sisters? The truth is that a lot of the secular culture does not care what we think on morality. But remember neither did much of the the ancient pagan world care what the Christians thought as well. Just as the early church eventually changed their minds, so can we today if we approach this issue in the right way. So how do we do it?

Well, society will only care about how much we know God, when we show them how much we care about people in society. This is how Christianity changed the world in the past, from the bottom up, not the top down. The ancient Christians took the gospel to a hostile world, many were killed for their beliefs, yet still they brought the gospel, and the good works of love that came with it, to all people. As a result by the 4th century even Roman emperors wanted to listen to them. They won people over by following the example of Jesus and the Apostle's and taking the message of the gospel to all people, and by loving them with their deeds as they did this. 

The hard truth, many Christians don’t want to hear, is that we should not be trying to force our morality on the people of this world. We can't force non-believers to live by the commands of a God they do not believe in, because they do not hold those commands in the same regard as us. To put it another way, the kingdom of God is not advanced when we force non-believers to act like Christians, the kingdom of God advances when non-believers come to faith in Jesus, are made new by the Holy Spirit, are adopted as children of God, and join a church and start the Christian journey. That is the ONLY way the kingdom of God advances, because Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, he said that himself (John 18:36). The truth is that we bring people into the kingdom with the gospel, and that gospel should be accompanied with good works of love (cf. 1 Peter 2:11-12).

Have you ever noticed that the Apostles never tried to enforce their morality on the Roman/Greek cities of the Roman Empire? This should really make us think? Rather was they did was was prepare Christians for life in a pagan context where Christian morality was despised. Peter warns us that the pagans, the unbelievers, will be shocked that we do not do the things they do (1 Peter 4:4), he also told us to submit to the governing authorities even in a pagan land where they would have pagan laws (1 Peter 2:13-17). Sure we should obey God’s laws first because his law is the highest law, and the governments law is second, but we cannot try to force the government to do what we want. In fact Peter's words almost feel like they were written to prepare us for life in a hostile society, because they were.  

I hear you cry out, “But we live in a democracy Matthew, therefore we can challenge the government.” Fine, I will grant you that the Roman government system is different to the Australian system, but I would point out that a majority of people in this country are not believers. Therefore, should we enforce our view of morality on them? No, never, God would not have us do that! I state again, never did anyone in the New Testament seek to tell the governing authorities what laws they should pass. The early church stayed out of such issues completely. If there is a passage in the New Testament which says otherwise, then please show it to me. So what should we do?

This is how I believe Christians can best approach this issue. We should believe what the Bible says, and what the Bible says is very clear, same sex marriage is an oxymoron biblically. But it’s not our job to force this view on others. Therefore, as Christians, if you ask us our opinion we will say we do not agree with it, if you ask us to vote on the same sex marriage issue we will vote against it, because God would have us do this. But our hope is not in political victories in this life. At the end of the day if gay marriage is passed as federal law in Australia (and I believe it will be eventually), it is not going to rock our world, because we are not of this world, we are people of the kingdom of God and our true home lies in the new heavens and earth. It should not surprise us that the world does not agree with us, Jesus told us to expect this (John 15:18-25), and so did Paul (2 Tim. 3:1-9). He also told us to love these people and share his message with them.  

The truth is even if gay marriage was passed in law today, it would only be a very small percentage of gay Australians who would get married (but it would be a massive news story). I genuinely believe there are bigger battles to fight. There are thousands of kids being abused in all sorts of contexts in our society. There is the massive break-down in marriages because of divorce, or the break-up of thousands of defacto relationships each year which is currently effecting our culture in so many negative ways and leading to a lot of hurting people. There is increasing homeless in our nation and a lot of people are falling below the poverty line because of the increase in the cost of living. In other words there is a lot of brokenness in this world that God wants his people to speak into with his love and his grace and to introduce them to his healing power. So, there are much larger battles to be fought, and a lot of people who need to hear the gospel, both straight people, and gay people. I will never agree with gay marriage, but my world will not be rocked if it passes either. The Apostle's lived in a hostile culture, so did the church fathers and the reformers, and many of the famous missionaries of the last few centuries. The New Testament prepares us for the same kind of opposition. Let us faithfully fulfill God's mission to be his ambassadors in this culture, by sharing his gospel message, by being his living witnesses and by persevering even when the culture opposes us. 

That’s my two cents. What do you think?