July 26, 2017 | Dr. Gentry Sutton, Acting Vice President of Academic Affairs
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the website of a church in my town because I wanted to see if it belonged to the liberal branch or one of the more conservative branches of its broader denomination. I learned that it belonged to the more liberal wing, which has formally permitted those participating in unbiblical sexual relationships to be church leaders, but I also found an interesting letter to the congregation from the church’s pastor and elders. These leaders noted that the denomination’s decision to abandon orthodox beliefs about sex and marriage was troubling, and they noted that their individual church had “the freedom and the responsibility to continue upholding biblical standards for [its] church officers.”
I know that a lot of evangelical people have chosen to stay in generally liberal denominations during the last few years and fight for right thinking at the local level, hoping they can eventually turn districts or even whole denominations back toward orthodoxy. In most cases, staying and fighting once a denomination has abandoned orthodoxy would not be my play, but I can respect it.
No matter my opinion about that issue, though, I was impressed by the church’s letter that I found on its website, for the pastor and elders hit the nail on the head when they wrote the following:
“We know that some will choose to see this action (the denomination’s acceptance of gay pastors and other church leaders) as all about sexuality. Actually, the root issue is a differing view of the Bible’s reliability and authority. We believe that the Bible is authoritative and that it instructs us to hold leaders of the Church to a higher standard.”
To those who know me well, I might sound like a broken record here because I get on my authority-of-Scripture soapbox frequently. But the church leaders who penned the statement above are absolutely right. If we don’t have the proper view of Scripture, then everything else falls apart. The sexual-freedom discourse, as well as the discourse about a lot of other social issues, has always been about biblical authority—and the Church universal dropped the ball when it decided not to fight for the authority of Scripture and not equip its people to defend it.
Having the knowledge that the overwhelming percentage of abortions occur as birth control in out-of-wedlock situations, the Christian community never should have engaged in the debate about when life begins. Rather, we should have stayed camped on the authority of Scripture and pointed out that Scripture demands the utmost respect for life—and that it commands couples to keep their pants on unless they’re married. If we respected biblical instruction about sexual behavior, approximately 90 percent of the abortion problem would go away.
Similarly, the Christian community should not have engaged in the “born this way” debate as it relates to homosexuality and the marrying of gay people. We should have stayed camped on the authority of Scripture and pointed out that Scripture patently condemns homosexual behavior. As my boss has pointed out many times, simply having natural inclinations toward sinning in certain ways does not excuse us of our responsibility to avoid satisfying those inclinations. I have innate tendencies toward a lot things that are wrong, but God expects me to keep these tendencies in check.
When we appeal to Scripture to justify homosexuality, we are actually just as guilty as the secular culture, if not more so, of abandoning the doctrine of biblical authority, for when we engage in hermeneutical and exegetical acrobatics to legitimize our capitulation to social pressure, then we have abandoned the clear teaching of Scripture and told Jesus that our interpretations of his instructions are more important than his actual instructions. And at that point, there’s really no reason to appeal to Christ or Scripture for ANYTHING. This reality underscores the reason I wish people who justify homosexuality would stop calling themselves evangelical, for, by definition, one cannot abandon the authority of Scripture and be evangelical.
(And yes, the New Testament prohibits homosexuality, and yes, there is a difference between the Old Testament’s condemnation of homosexuality and its condemnation of eating pork or touching a dead animal.)
The evangelical Church will not win these debates on the secularists’ terms. If we want to see things turn around, we must fight for the cultural elevation and estimation of Scripture by (1) communicating to our people the importance of biblical authority and (2) teaching them how to defend this doctrine, for it is a doctrine that is and will be mocked.
Abortion is not about abortion, and sexual behavior outside of God’s word is not about sexual behavior. These issues are about the authority of Scripture, so until the Church decides to stop playing the edutainment game, until it once again embraces church discipline, and until it stops giving the appearance of condoning homosexuality in an effort to be “relevant” in the culture, then we will keep sliding further and further toward the cliff.
(And I might add that taking a stand for life and taking a stand against the LGBTQ agenda are two of the most culturally relevant things the Church can do.)