(This is the seventh in a series of eight readings and discussion questions, that make up “Leading Your Church to be as Gay-Friendly as the Bible Teaches.”)
The following statements are presented to give you a prototype for a theological framework for deciding what your church’s position will be regarding sexual sin in general, and for responding to challenges against a historical Christian view of marriage. We suggest that they be reviewed carefully by the leadership of your church and eventually adopted in part or whole as your church’s own Statement on Human Sexuality. (Therefore, the position put forward below may not yet accurately reflect the beliefs of the leaders of your church.)
Sample Statement on Human Sexuality:
An Introduction and Context The sexual ethics of American culture have never been more confused and contorted. Divorce is rampant, sex before marriage is almost universally accepted as a reality, cohabitation before or instead of marriage has become normal, new technologies have made pornography immediately accessible, the once inconceivable notion of same-sex marriage is now recognized by law, and gender has become fluid. The need for a clear voice from our church on all these matters is critical—both for the health of our church community and to serve as a faithful witness to the world.
The following Statement sets forth a Christian vision of human sexuality as a good gift from our God.
In it, we will affirm marriage, singleness, celibacy, sexuality, and gender as we believe God intended them, as well as address a variety of sexual attractions, behaviors, and relationships that the Bible prohibits. We will focus primarily on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. And later, in our Church Covenant, we will address what believing these things will mean for our churches and what the pastors and leaders expect of our members.
What we believe regarding human sexuality and marriage flows from our commitment to God and his will as expressed in the Bible. On the most important matters of human sexuality, God has not asked our opinion. Therefore, even if our motives are loving and kind, Christians do not have the option to disregard its teachings. (Dt. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-38; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. Dt.32:45-47; Matt. 4:4).
God created human beings as male and female (Gen. 1:27). The complementary anatomical and relational nature of the human race as “male and female” reflects the created order given by God when he created human beings “in his image” (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1, 3; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jms. 3:9; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10). While our created differences as male and female have often been used to oppress women, we believe in the full equality of women and men as image bearers of God our Creator.
Scripture grants two life-enhancing options for sexual behavior: monogamous marital relations between one man and one woman (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18, 21-24; Matt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-8; Heb. 13:4) and sexual celibacy (1 Cor. 7:1, 8; Matt. 19:12). Either is a gift from God and is given as he wills for his glory and the good of those who receive and rejoice in his gift to them.
Our definition of a biblical marriage
Marriage is the original and foundational institution of human society, established by God as a one-flesh, covenantal union between a man and a woman from different families that is life-long (until separated by death), exclusive (monogamous and faithful), and generative in nature (designed for bearing and rearing children).
This is still true whether a couple is able or intends to have children. Procreation was one of God’s original intentions for marriage but may not be a requirement in the present age. Additionally, there are circumstances under which we recognize a biblical divorce, which allows for remarriage, but that was not God’s original intent either.
1. In Scripture, monogamous, heterosexual marriage bears a significance that goes beyond the regulation of sexual behavior, the bearing and raising of children, the formation of families, and the recognition of certain economic and legal rights—all of which are important. Marriage between a woman and a man is emphatically declared in Scripture to create a “one flesh” union (Gen. 2:23-24; Matt. 19:5), which exemplifies the mystery of the union and relationship between Christ and his body, the Church (Eph. 5:22- 33).
2. Although most people do choose to get married, the Bible (especially in the New Testament), celebrates singleness. Jesus, Paul, and many early Christian leaders were both single and celibate. Singleness gives greater freedom for service, is desirable, and should be celebrated and honored in the church (Matt. 19:10-12, 1 Cor. 7:1, 8, 25-30).
3. All humans have a sinful nature. This doesn’t mean that everything humans do is sin, but it does mean that sin has affected all aspects of human nature including our sexuality (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23; 5:12). Therefore, all people—straight and LGBTQ—have a broken sexuality which is manifested in different ways and in need of the healing grace of Christ.”
Whether the prohibited heterosexual or same-sex attractions and temptations men and women experience are the product of their life experiences, their biological or psychological influence, or the influence of demons or another source—no matter the origin, they are not what God intended. They are the result of the Fall and sin’s corruption of creation. Therefore, while we try to understand those circumstances, these prohibited behaviors are still sin. God did not make us this way. It’s what we’ve become as a result of sin.
4. Temptation (including sexual temptation) may not be a sin—if it is a brief and fleeting thought, almost immediately dismissed and not seriously contemplated. Even multiple temptations are not a sin. Jesus was tempted three times, and “in every way,” and did not sin (Matthew 4:1-11, Hebrews 4:15).
Same-sex attractions/temptations in themselves are not sin. Leviticus 18, 20, and 1 Corinthians 6 all refer to the sexual act (not the person) as sinful. However, someone who is attracted to the same gender is not allowed to engage in it either physically (sexually), according to these passages, or mentally, according to Jesus in Matthew 5.
Indeed, God does prohibit the serious contemplation of sin, and the Bible warns us against dwelling on it because it often leads to the actual act (James 1:13-15). For instance, although the Bible does not call temptation sin, it prohibits not only adultery, but the desire for adultery (Matthew 5:27,28). Therefore, while same-sex attraction alone is not a sin, dwelling on homosexual thoughts, engaging in lustful fantasies, and ultimately acting on same-sex behaviors are all sins. Living holy lives in spite of ongoing temptations must be the goal of all Christians.
5. The good news of the Gospel is that all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who gives us both the desire and the power to resist temptation. Therefore, saying, “I’m powerless to overcome my sin,” is a lie from the deceiver (Romans 8:9-11, Eph. 4:30, 1 Timothy 2:25, 26, James 4:7, 1 John 2:4, 1 John 4:13, 18).
6. Cohabitation of two unmarried people, whether by an SSA or a heterosexual couple, may not be a sin if there is sexual abstinence, but it may be unwise for these reasons:
Cohabitation increases the risk of falling into sexual sin and therefore is very unwise. Even if a couple is committed to sexual abstinence, living together significantly increases the temptation and likelihood of sexual promiscuity of all varieties. “Flee from sexual immorality,” 1 Corinthians 6:18 says.
Cohabitation of men and women attracted to one another hinders a couple’s witness for Christ. The Bible calls us to be holy and set apart. Even if a couple is committed to sexual abstinence, most people will assume they are having sex and as a result, they will be a poor witness (1 Peter 1:15-16; 2:9).
For these reasons we urge cohabitating, heterosexual couples to either choose marriage or live separately. Cohabitating individuals may continue as members, but it is not likely that they will be allowed to teach or lead in our church.
7. The Scriptures have much to say about sexual behavior, from the beautiful affirmations of the Song of Songs to the prohibitions found throughout the Bible (e.g., Rom. 13:13-14; 1 Cor. 5:1-2; 6:9-10, 15-18; Gal. 5:16-21; 1 Thess. 4:3-8). Jesus himself warned against all sexual immorality (porneia), which includes all sexual practices prohibited in the Torah (Mark 7:21). The Apostle Paul affirms that among believers “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” (This includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality as found in Eph. 5:3, 1 Timothy 1:9, 10.)
References to same-sex behavior in the Bible are always expressed in negative terms. All same sex, sexual behavior, whether it is consensual or not, is specifically condemned as sin in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen. 19:4-11; Lev. 18:22; Lev. 20:13; Judges 19:22-25; Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:8-11).
Homosexual behavior and other prohibited sexual behaviors, along with the experience of same-sex attraction, are not God’s intent for human sexuality as revealed at creation and throughout Scripture. We can assume from Scripture that it was God’s intention that men be attracted to women and women to men. Additionally, there are no examples in Scripture of any other human sexual attraction of which God approves other than opposite-gendered attraction. So, even if it sounds politically incorrect, any other sexual desire, whether intentional or not, is not God’s original intent for humans (Romans 1:26, 27, Gen. 1:27-28, 2:18-25, Mat. 19:4-6).
8. We have this warning from God in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10: “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 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
God, through Paul, is not referring to those who struggle with committing various sins, repent of them, seek forgiveness, make a serious effort to resist temptation, and call on the Holy Spirit to help them in these areas. Instead, God is warning those who have given up the struggle, who no longer call it sin, and have given themselves over to and embraced, accepted, or celebrated these behaviors. God warns that in so doing, individuals prove themselves not to be children of God, thereby disqualifying themselves from inheriting the Kingdom of God.
9. In Scripture, God has made it clear that he values and guards the moral and spiritual health of the community above that of the individual. This was true both in Israel (in the Old Testament) and in the Church (in the New Testament). Therefore, an individual’s right to disobey God in order to “be happy” never trumps the declared will of God for his people (Deut. 19:20, 1 Sam. 2:25, Acts 5:9-11).
10. As followers of Jesus, we are to find our primary identity in Christ, and not in our sexuality or any other distinctions. Christians have rarely identified themselves as Baptist Christians or heterosexual Christians. We are first and foremost Christians who may be Baptists, or who are straight. Therefore, we encourage but do not require Christians who experience same-sex attractions (SSA) to not use the term gay Christian. To do so can have the appearance of having a dual allegiance of identity (Eph. 2:19, Gal. 3:26-28, Phil. 3:20).
11. Having read, understood, and considered the best affirming interpretations of Scripture, we have concluded that they do not present a more faithful or compelling Christian vision for human sexuality than the historic Christian view.
12. The church is to be a new community that resembles a family of brothers and sisters united in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, displaying deep relationships of love (1 Cor. 12:12-13; Rom. 12:10; 1 Tim. 5:1-2). Celibacy and singleness—whether by heterosexuals or same-sex attracted men and women—are to be celebrated and affirmed within the church family.
13. The theology of self-denial is based on Christ’s description of what it means to follow him and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23,24). Any teaching that elevates personal sexual expression and sense of fulfillment over clear Scriptural commands fails to account for Christ’s demand that each of us joyfully suffer the consequences of self-denial and obedience.
Further, Paul’s and Peter’s desire and plea for Christians was to suffer rather than compromise their faith (Luke 9:23, Phil. 3, 1 Peter 3:14-15, Hebrews 11:24-26). Therefore, as we interpret that for our church today, our positions on human sexuality may be very unpopular with some people, both homosexual and heterosexual men and women. It is quite likely that as individuals and as a church we may suffer for holding to them and living by them.
Note: You may want to include your church’s position on divorce and remarriage in this Statement.
Which of these biblical positions did you find most helpful in your understanding of these issues?
What teachings or positions were new to you?
Are there any of these positions that you question or challenge? Why?
Would the young people in your church or your own children say that you “celebrate singleness?” Why or why not?
Do you agree that it’s not a sin to be tempted sexually if it doesn’t lead to fantasizing, lust, or the physical act? Why or why not?
Do you have any thoughts on cohabitation different from those discussed in this chapter?
Does your church exercise discipline for sexual sin? Do you think it does so fairly? Why is excommunication for unrepentant Christians so rarely done today? Is that good or bad?
Can you understand why SSA Christians feel that the church appears to consider homosexuality a far worse sin than heterosexual fornication or adultery? Discuss why they might have that perception.
How following Jesus works in real life.
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