Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Many people take issue with the church’s stance on homosexuality. It is handled different from church to church and denomination to denomination; but generally speaking, homosexuality is considered a sin and something not to be engaged in. Time and time again, openly gay believers have been denied access to the clergy, upsetting many people. Let’s take a look today at the Biblical facts (as laid out by the Holy Spirit) and what can be inferred through them and make our decisions thereof.
First of all, the Bible states, “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable” (Leviticus 18:22). This categorizes homosexual activity as sin. Although many sins were somewhat repealed in the New Testament, this one stuck; for it is written there,
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
There’s no getting around it, homosexual activity is sin; the church has no wiggle room on this one. It is not some sort of major sin though- because there’s no such thing; for the Bible says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:20). This is why we’re all under grace. A person with homosexual feelings is no different than a chronically angry person, a vengeful person, or a porn-watcher. We’re all under grace and our salvation is completely reliant on Christ. That’s why Paul made it clear when he wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith- and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Everybody needs grace because everyone sins. Even the Bible acknowledges how hopelessly entrenched everyone on the earth is in sin. Solomon wrote, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). And the New Testament reminds us,
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).
When I was a kid, my church used to read that particular Scripture every day. Therefore, since everyone at church is full of sin, no person should be put out of the church any more than anyone else (despite what protest signs may suggest). This also means that a person can be gay and still be saved; as mentioned before, our salvation is not based on our righteousness, but on Christ’s. As it is written, “But now a righteousness from God, apart from the law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (Romans 3:21). That saving righteousness came about through Christ’s sacrifice on a cross in our stead: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). When Jesus was hung to death on a wooden cross, the Lord placed the sin of the world on him who had not sinned, cursing him in our stead. Thus we can be saved even though we are all sinners.
Alright, now comes the potentially controversial stuff. The issue with homosexuality and the church lies not in the sin, but how it is regarded. Sin is sin. The Corinthian church had a problem with a man in sin; but the problem wasn’t the sin, it was how that sin was regarded. Scripture records,
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)
The church in Corinth was proud of this man’s incestuous relationship- ok, ok, that sounds weird but think of it this way: what they were probably saying was, “Look how accepting we are!” So they weren’t pro-incest, but they were apparently very supportive of this man in the church. The man, though, was in sin and completely unrepentant. Therefore Paul said,
When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord (1 Corinthians 5:4-5).
A person who is proudly sinning and has no interest in changing their ways should be put out of the church. However, in Paul’s second letter to Corinth he told them to allow the man back,
For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent- not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. The reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven- if there was anything to forgive- I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:4-11).
After all of that strong language in the first letter, Paul seems to recoil back and almost apologize. Later in the 2nd letter, he explains why he was so strong about the man being put out of the church for a little while:
Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it- I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while- yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7:8-10).
So the goal wasn’t the spread of hatred towards such people, it was just for the man to get his mind straight; for the Bible tells us that we shouldn’t associate with unrepentant believers:
But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat (1 Corinthians 5:11).
This sort of action (putting out of the church) goes for any unrepentant believer who doesn’t want to let go of his or her sin. As for those outside the church, the Bible says it is none of our business; for it is written,
I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world (1 Corinthians 5:9-10).
So put down your “God Hates ______” sign, because the Word of your God says, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. ‘Expel the wicked man from among you’” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13).
Now, about homosexuality in the clergy. I wholly believe you can be saved, have the Holy Spirit, and even be inspired by the Word and still be gay; because, as we’ve seen, homosexuality ranks the same as any other sin- of which we are all unable to escape. If this is true, why then deny people who are openly gay the right to become pastors? Again, this is less a matter of the sin itself, but rather how that sin is handled. If a person has a homosexual past but is doing all they can to suppress those feelings and live wholly for God, then by all means such a man should be eligible to wear the cloth. However, being gay openly and unabashedly shows a lack of repentance over a clearly-defined sin. If someone is openly cheating on their spouse, do you want that person as your pastor? Or a drunk with no intention of quitting, is that someone you want leading your worship of God? James says, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). If having an open, unrepentant attitude about other sins is unacceptable, why should homosexuality be ok? People with no drive or will to overcome sin should not enter the clergy.
A big problem is that we’ve mis-categorized homosexuality into a state of being rather than what it is: a desire. People say, “I was born this way” and I do not doubt that to be true; as we were born with a sin-nature. Say I was born with alcoholism in my blood (studies these days suggest it is somewhat hereditary), that doesn’t mean I have to live and die as an alcoholic. The Bible reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” All Christians are expected to leave their old lives of sin behind (or at least constantly try) when they accept God’s forgiveness and salvation. Paul writes,
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24).
It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done; when you enter into God’s realm, you leave your baggage at the door. The same goes for homosexuality. Sin is sin, and as much as we’d like God to bend to our desires he doesn’t swing like that: “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed” (Malachi 3:6). But, because of the Lord’s unchanging nature we rejoice; for “Every good and perfect gift is from above coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). And so when God makes a law, we try to follow it; and when he makes a promise, we have the assurance that he’ll see it through to the end. Promises like, “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 31:8). It’s a tough life for all of us, but remember that you’re never alone; Jesus loves you, and the Lord protects all of his children.
Rock on God!