Although this is much longer than a typical post, it’s important to put this commentary on the record. Note that although there is significant overlap with the previous post of this title I have added substantial new material and edited for the intended audience.
Note to the Session on the Study of Same Sex Marriage at First Pres
Given the urgency and seriousness of the situation now facing First Pres a substantial comment is necessary, which follows.
I’m sorry to see that the Session is now in the process of debating affirmation of same sex marriage as explained by this statement recently emailed to the congregation.
As a community of faith, it is important for us to continue to speak with one another and listen to one another, especially in areas of differing faithful convictions. The elders and pastors that comprise the session of First Pres have agreed to spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage. We ask for your prayers that we will be guided by God’s spirit in our sharing, listening, and considerations of the ministry of our body as we seek to follow Jesus together.
I note with deep concern that this statement excludes the Bible as a resource for this “study.” Rather, it is only “God’s spirit” and “follow[ing] Jesus” that will guide this “study.”
This is an astonishing exclusion. After all, as teaching and ruling elders you have all solemnly sworn:
- Do you accept the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be, by the Holy Spirit, the unique and authoritative witness to Jesus Christ in the Church universal, and God’s Word to you?
- Do you sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do, and will you be instructed and led by those confessions as you lead the people of God?
- Will you fulfill your ministry in obedience to Jesus Christ, under the authority of Scripture, and be continually guided by our confessions?
The Holy Spirit’s Role in Biblical Interpretation
I agree that the Holy Spirit’s leading is essential to the proper interpretation of Scripture. However, I trust the Session agrees that claims of the Holy Spirit’s guidance cannot be taken at face value. For example, were someone to claim that the Holy Spirit had guided them to an interpretative conclusion that contradicts Scripture’s clear teaching, we would be correct to reject their claim. That is, the Holy Spirit will not lead us to contradict Scripture.
The Scots Confession provides clear guidance on this key issue. Substitution of “church” for “Kirk” in the following excerpt will minimize confusion.
The interpretation of Scripture we confess, does not belong to any private or public person, nor yet to an Kirk for pre-eminence or precedence, personal or local, which it has above others, but pertains to the Spirit of God by whom the Scriptures were written. When controversy arises about the right understanding of any passage or sentence of Scripture, or for the reformation of any abuse within the Kirk of God, we ought not so much to ask what men have said or done before us, as what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded. For it is agreed by all that the Spirit of God, who is the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself. So if the interpretation or opinion of any theologian, Kirk, or council, is contrary to the plain Word of God written in any other passage of the Scripture, it is most certain that this is not the true understanding and meaning of the Holy Ghost, although councils, realms, and nations have approved and received it. (3.19-.20)
Note that the test for accepting any Scriptural interpretation is “what the Holy Ghost uniformly speaks within the body of the Scriptures and what Christ Jesus himself did and commanded” because “the Spirit of unity, cannot contradict himself.”
John Calvin also addressed this issue in his Institutes of the Christian Religion.
But in promising it, of what sort did he declare his Spirit would be? One that would speak not from himself but would suggest to and instill into their minds what he had handed on through the Word [John 16:13]. Therefore the Spirit, promised to us, has not the task of inventing new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine, to lead us away from the received doctrine of the gospel, but of sealing our minds with that very doctrine which is commended by the gospel.
So, by claiming the Holy Spirit’s guidance for this “study” the authors have not exempted themselves from careful, comprehensive Scriptural review. Nor does their intention to be guided by “God’s spirit” free them to invent “new and unheard-of revelations, or of forging a new kind of doctrine.”
The Bible’s Testimony about the Definition and Nature of Christian Marriage
If the Bible’s testimony about the definition of marriage is included there can be no doubt as to the meaning. In particular, we have the explicit teaching of Jesus Christ Himself on marriage’s definition (Matthew 19: 4-6). Christ is here not just reaffirming the Genesis definition of marriage, but is adding stress on the genders of the two parties involved – a man and a woman – as well as the settled, God ordained meaning of this union.
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.
He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder.”
And yet, the authors of this announcement claim to be seeking “to follow Jesus together.” This stunning disconnect forces us to confront the question of who they believe Jesus Christ to be and how they come to knowledge of His teaching.
They claim that our church leaders should “spend the next several months in prayerful study, active conversation, and discernment regarding our church’s statements and policy on same sex marriage.” And yet, we find that this same Jesus Christ has directly and clearly defined marriage to be between one man and one woman, without the slightest hint of flexibility.
This situation is at the core of my opposition to this proposed initiative. For, to come to the conclusion that same sex marriage is “Christian” would explicitly contradict the absolutely clear teaching of Jesus Christ as found in Scripture. Thus, by even proposing this debate they are legitimizing an outcome that explicitly ignores and subverts Christ’s actual teaching.
False and Frivolous Counter-Arguments
Supporters of change will throw up many other Biblical passages that they claim somehow open the door to same sex marriage. And yet, what is the standard for Biblical interpretation? It is this from the Westminster Confession of Faith.
“The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture, is the Scripture itself; and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it may be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” (6.009)
Same sex marriage is the ultimate test case for this central interpretative principle. Yes, with clever argumentation certain Scriptural passages may be claimed to indirectly allow same sex marriage (though I strongly argue the opposite). But we have the ultimate “speak more clearly” passage in Matthew 19:4-6. And yet, in spite of this, proponents insist that it is a legitimate “Christian” position to support this innovation.
Proponents will also claim that we must interpret Christ’s teachings within the context of our current situation. Thus, surely words spoken by Christ in the context of an ancient, primitive culture must be updated to our contemporary, (supposedly) advanced situation. It turns out that John Calvin had to deal with this very same idea five centuries ago, and he replied as follows (Institutes of the Christian Religion).
“…What devilish madness is it to pretend that the use of Scripture, which leads the children of God even to the final goal, is fleeting or temporal?”
You will likely be told that the actions of Jesus, passed down in Scripture, showed unconditional love and equality for all people, as if this is the final, comprehensive summation of His life and teaching. I agree that Jesus Christ taught we should reach out in love to all people. After all, the Great Commission is the climax of Matthew’s Gospel. However, careful study of Scripture’s testimony does not yield the above portrait of Jesus’ teaching and actions. They were indeed sometimes dominated by “unconditional love and equality for all people.” At other times they were dominated by a fierce judgment and anger against the stubborn sinfulness of people or situations. This complexity was well analyzed by Arthur Gossip’s Interpreter’s Bible exposition on the Gospel of John (2:13-17), in which Jesus clears the temple of moneychangers. He uses this occasion of Christ’s wrath to discuss how Christ’s true nature can be utterly distorted by a selective, partisan interpretation of Scripture’s teaching.
Finally, you will certainly be told that, since the secular world has embraced same sex marriage, it is therefore incumbent on the church to follow suit. This is a falsehood. The Christian Church does not exist to selectively affirm any secular, partisan political position. We are free to practice the secular politics that seems most aligned with our Christian faith out in the world (be it Progressive or Conservative or Independent or Libertarian, etc.). But, inside Christ’s Church the fight is not “secular politics by other means” but rather for the purity and truth of the Gospel.
I’m deeply concerned that Jesus has become to many Christians just “that guy who surely agrees with whatever I decide is good and true” as opposed to the objectively real incarnation of God who said and did specific things that are authoritative in defining our understanding of the Christian faith and it’s playing out in our lives.
This note is only one of many opposing statements by church members that are sustained by prayer and trust that:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
To those who understand the great, destructive error of rejecting Christ’s explicit definition of Christian marriage, take courage and speak up. There is no failure when we remain faithful to Him who has saved us unto eternal life!