Friday, October 26, 2007

THE CHURCH AND HOMOSEXUALITY

It seems the church today is confused about homosexuality. There are many different views held.
 
There are those on the liberal wing of the church who see the issue as a matter of simple acceptance. As we have made progress in civil rights in America, the church has followed. The church has become more accepting of ethnic/racial minorities. The church is becoming more accepting of equal rights and roles for women. So it seems natural that we should accept gays (homosexuals) as equals. We should no more expect them to change their practice than we should expect people to change their skin color or their gender.
 
On the other, conservative wing, there are those who not only condemn homosexual practice, but the homosexual himself. They see homosexuality and its political agenda as a great danger to the family as well as to the church.

Who is right?

As with many matters, I believe that there is an element of truth somewhere between the two extremes.

I suspect that the homosexual is more often condemned today by many Christians, not so much for sinning in the biblical sense, as for violating the machismo required of the American male. But if homosexual behavior is a sin, the voice of Christianity is not only to pronounce condemnation, but also to hold out the possibility of forgiveness.

Before condemning or condoning homosexuality, we evangelicals must examine the Scripture and attempt to ascertain what the biblical view is.

What is Homosexuality? Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 10th Edition gives the following definitions:
homosexual (adj.) 1) of, relating to, or characterized by a tendency to direct sexual desire to another of the same sex. 2) of, relating to, or involving sexual intercourse between persons of the same sex.
homosexual (n.) a homosexual person, and especially a male.
homosexuality (n.) 1) the quality or state of being homosexual. 2) erotic activity with another of the same sex.

Though some dislike the term homosexual when used as a noun, thinking of homosexuality as a condition or part of one’s total sexuality, I will in this post consider a homosexual to be one who has this tendency.

There have been many attempts to explain homosexuality sociologically, psychologically and genetically. It is not my purpose here to discuss these factors unless they touch directly on the biblical passages being discussed. However, it is important to note that the Bible speaks to the practice of homosexuality, and not to the state of homosexuality. If the Bible condemns the practice but not the state, then all attempts to use factors outside the homosexual to explain his condition will not justify his practice.

The Biblical Norm for Sexuality. Before considering what the Bible has to say about homosexuality we must consider what it has to say about the sexual roles of men and women.

It is clear that God’s intention for the human race at creation was a male/female relationship (Genesis 1:27). In the more detailed account of the creation, God after creating man (male) is quoted as saying, “It is not good for man to be alone: I will make him a helper suitable for (corresponding to) him” (Genesis 2:18). We find (2:22, 23) that this “suitable helper” is the woman, and the comment is made (verse 24) that the man and the woman are to “become one flesh,” which includes, among other things, sexual union. One of the purposes for this male/female union is that of procreation. In speaking to the issue of divorce, Jesus endorsed this principle (Matthew 19:4-6), laying special stress on the idea of one man and one woman.

Paul also stressed the one man/one woman marriage relationship (1 Corinthians 7:1-5; 9:5) with the special emphasis on the sexual aspects. The husband and the wife are each under the authority of the other sexually. The reason which Paul gives here for marital sex is “because of immoralities” (porneias). This term was a broad term used to describe every form of sexual sin, which would include homosexual activity.

The only alternative to heterosexuality, which the Scriptures present, is celibacy, complete abstinence from sexual activity. This is presented as a respectable, and in some cases, preferable option. Jesus spoke of those “who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12), apparently referring to those who abstained from marriage or any sexual activity. The apostle Paul could be considered one such “eunuch.” Jesus and Paul both urged that those who were capable of living without sex should do so (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:1, 7, 8). The single life is urged by Paul as permitting one to devote more time to spiritual matters (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

Old Testament Teachings Regarding Homosexuality. The Mosaic Law very clearly condemns homosexual acts. The act itself is described and condemned twice in the book of Leviticus, “You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination” (18:22). “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act” (20:13). Both “abomination” and “detestable act” are translations of the Hebrew TO’EBAH which signifies the strongest repugnance of God. This act is condemned as being one of the customs of the Canaanites, which the Israelites were forbidden to take part in (Leviticus 18:3). The Canaanite religion was a nature religion involving everything from perverse sex acts to human sacrifices. It is for these practices that the Canaanites were to be exterminated (18:24, 25). The penalty for homosexual intercourse (as for many other sexual sins) was death (20:13).

Another related act condemned under the Mosaic Law was the Canaanite practice of ritual prostitution which involved both men and women (Deuteronomy 23:17, 18). This practice was forbidden to the Israelites and it was also specifically spelled out that their wages were not to be given to the house of the Lord. “You shall not bring the hire of a harlot or the wages of a dog into the house of the LORD your God for any votive offering, for both of these are an abomination to the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 23:18). It is usually understood that “price of a dog” of Deuteronomy 23:18 refers to the wages received by a male cult prostitute. This custom was apparently never completely shaken by Israel. We find that male cult prostitutes were around in the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:24); King Asa waged a campaign against them (1 Kings 15:12); as also did Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:46) and Josiah (2 Kings 23:7).


Thus a study of the Old Testament passages with regard to the practice of homosexuality gives us the idea that it was something that was utterly repugnant to God.

New Testament Teachings Regarding Homosexuality. In the New Testament, we find no indication that the divine viewpoint toward this practice and those who practice it, had changed.  In the Pauline epistles we find frequent reference to the practice.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10, Paul states that “the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God,” and then lists ten specific examples of who the unrighteous are. Three of the examples refer either directly or indirectly to those who practice homosexual behavior. In 1 Timothy 1:9, 10, Paul has a similar list containing two of the three mentioned in the 1 Corinthians’ passage. It will be profitable to examine these three words:
-- Pornos is the masculine form of pornē “a prostitute” from pernēmi “to sell.” The word is usually translated “fornicator” or “whoremonger” in the KJV, and could well have these meanings; however, it originally had reference to a male prostitute. In the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) in Deuteronomy 23:17 it is used to translate the Hebrew QĀDĒSH “male cult prostitute.” The pornos is condemned frequently in the New Testament.
-- Malakos literally means “soft” and when applied to men means “effeminate.” It especially is used outside the New Testament of men or boys who are the objects of sex acts. It is only used in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 6:9 in this sense.
-- Arsenokoitēs is found in the New Testament only in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. The word is derived from two Greek words: arsēn “male” and koitē “bed,” which is often a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Thus it means literally “a male who has intercourse with another male” and clearly refers to the homosexual.
In these Pauline passages we clearly see the same divine revulsion for homosexual practice of every sort, as we saw in the Old Testament. Probably the most vivid picture of the practice is that which Paul paints in Romans 1:26, 27, which is also the only clear reference to lesbianism. It will be necessary to examine the passage as it fits into the argument of Romans.

Paul in Romans 1 begins his argument for the necessity of justification by faith, by pointing out that God’s wrath “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men” (verse 18). The reason for this is given as the fact that man has rebelled against the knowledge of God which man has in natural revelation and has suppressed what truth of God he has. This led to a downward spiral in man beginning with idolatry and ending with “a mind incapable of correct judgment” (adokimos, verse 28). This is a historical picture of the human race, though this same movement can be seen in nations and cultural groups and even in individuals. The downward trend is punctuated by the use of the phrase “God gave them over,” three times (verses 24, 26, 28). This phrase may indicate three steps in the process, or three views of the same judicial action of God. If I may restate the process:

-- Man had a knowledge of God through natural revelation (1:18b-21a).
-- Man rejected this knowledge of God and designed his own religion (1:21b-23).
-- God, in judgment of man, handed him over to total depravity. This is described as “impurity” (verse 24a), “degrading passions” (verse 26a), “a mind incapable of judgment” (verse 28b).
-- This depravity resulted in all sorts of perverse activities, described as: the dishonoring of their bodies among them (verse 24b); homosexual activity (verses 26b, 27); “things which are not proper” (verse 28c).
-- The final result is a character described as “being filled with all unrighteousness” (verses 29-32).

It seems that homosexual practice is pointed out here in verses 26 and 27, as an illustration of the outworking of man’s “degrading passions.” The language here is vivid. Some facts to be noted are:

-- The words Paul uses here are “females” and “males” not “women” and “men.”
-- Lesbianism is called an “exchange.” This is the same word that is used twice of man’s abandonment of God for man’s own religion (verses 23, 25).
-- Lesbianism is not merely “unnatural,” it is literally “against nature.”
-- Male homosexuals are said to act “in the same way” as lesbians. Thus it seems that what is true of one is true of the other.
-- Male homosexuals are said to have “abandoned” or “deserted” natural heterosexual activity.
-- The words used to describe homosexual passions are very strong words. The word translated “burned” is often used in Koine Greek of the arousing of strong emotion.
-- The homosexual act is described as literally, “the shameless deed.”
-- Homosexuals are said to receive in “their own persons the due penalty of their error.” This would seem to indicate that the practice itself is not only the result of a mind incapable of judgment, but it leads to a further incapacity to make proper judgment.

It seems, from the Romans’ passage, that homosexual practice has a particular repugnance in the sight of God. There is no direct explanation given but the following may be reasons why this is so:

-- It is an exchange of the God-revealed way of sexuality for a new way of man’s own design. In this it mirrors man’s exchange of God-given religion for man’s own.
-- It is “against nature.” Most of man’s lusts are the exaggeration of God-given desires, such as the desire for heterosexual activity, for self-preservation, etc., but homosexual practice is not based on normal desire.

We may thus conclude that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments condemns homosexual practice. This must be understood clearly before a biblical position can be taken.

A Biblical Position on Homosexuality Today

The Homosexual’s Position Before God. As has been shown above, the homosexual stands condemned before God. He “shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10). And yet in this he is in no different position than any other sinner. Every New Testament passage mentioned above condemning homosexual behavior is in the context of the condemnation of other sins.

Christ died for the homosexual as certainly as for any other sinner and the homosexual can find forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ. As a matter of fact, he is then no longer considered by God to be a homosexual. “Such WERE some of you” says Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:11. As with every other sinner, he is a new creature in Christ, even though he may still have these tendencies (See: LIES WE CHRISTIANS BELIEVE ABOUT OURSELVES.). This does not mean that God accepts the homosexual’s practice, but that God forgives him totally of that practice and sees him differently.

Salvation and forgiveness in Christ does not mean that the homosexual is free to practice homosexual acts. Romans 6:1, 2 is emphatic here: the homosexual (as everyone else) is not to “continue in sin.” Here it is very necessary to note the distinction between the practice of homosexuality and the state. The homosexual’s state may have been brought on him by genetics or years of conditioning. It may not have been the result of direct choice. When the homosexual becomes a Christian he is not guaranteed an immediate removal of his desires (nor is any other sinner). But he does have some alternatives:
-- First he must realize that he is forgiven his past and that God does not hold him accountable for his present tendencies.
-- The homosexual must understand that there is need for change in his life and that he must desire that change. In this he is no different from any other sinner. All of us are plagued with desires and thoughts that are sinful.
-- There is nothing wrong with remaining single and celibate. The person with homosexual tendencies is denied no more by the single state than is the person with heterosexual tendencies. In fact the single state has definite advantages for the Christian (Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:1, 7, 17, 20, 26).

The Responsibility of the Church Toward the Homosexual. By this is meant the responsibility of the church collectively, especially the responsibility of those in the church who are heterosexual in orientation.

-- Truth must always be accompanied by love. Paul spoke of “living the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). He told the Corinthians that “knowledge puffs up but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Most of the preceding material has been devoted to ascertaining the biblical truth about homosexuality. This was not done in order to put the homosexual in the position of a second class person.
-- Every one who knows Christ had to come to Him as a sinner. The lists of sins in which homosexual practice is included contain also the sins of theft, covetousness, adultery, swindling, lying, etc. We have all been guilty (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; 1 Timothy 1:9, 10).
-- The homosexual who comes to Christ by faith is completely forgiven, as was each one of us, “Such were some of you,” says Paul, “but you were washed … sanctified … justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
-- The homosexual is definitely "different." As such he should not be loathed, but loved. Our attitude toward him should compassionately take account of his state and tendencies.
-- Our evangelistic efforts toward the homosexual should have no other motivation than our efforts toward others. Our primary concern should not be to convert him to “straightness” but to convert him to Christ.
-- The homosexual believer - as any believer - may lapse back into his old patterns of behavior.  As any believer he can find forgiveness in Christ.  And should be accepted by the church.

Conclusion. While the sin of the homosexual is unique, he is in a very real sense little different from the rest of us. All stand guilty before God and all are offered forgiveness in Christ. As in the case of every Christian, finding forgiveness does not eliminate the problems of the homosexual. He may be in for a lifetime of struggle. He may lapse. It is absolutely necessary for the Christian community to offer him love, forgiveness and acceptance.

NOTE: This post was revised on 7/2/2015.  The passage about Sodom was deleted after further study.  See:  WHAT DID SODOM DO? and SCHOLARSHIP OR TRADITION. 

For my further thoughts, see A STEP IN FAITH and LOVE IS AN ORIENTATION and LOVE IS AN ORIENTATION, 2.

3 comments:

Sandy in Texas said...

Hi, Bill. Just wanted you to know that I really appreciated this blog for the thorough explanation of the Biblical passages, and for the conclusion on the balance the church should practice in ministering to homosexuals. Thank you for taking the time to do this. I have several Christian friends who struggle with a loved one who is homosexual and I believe the insights in this article will minister to them.

God bless you!

Sandy in Texas said...

Hey again!

I was thinking about this blog entry, and it reminded me of a story from Grace Bible long ago. And I remembered that you had blogged about it! The connection was awesome, a Holy Spirit inspired epiphany, so, I blogged about it!

Thought you might like to know you and your thoughts had been blogged about:

True Christian Compassion

Bill Ball said...

Thanks Sandy