Opinion: Scripture, not compromise
If we extend grace without truth, we offer a false gospel
In the debate within Mennonite Church USA over homosexual practice, church leaders and others tell us that staying together will require a lot of accommodation and compromise. However, it seems that the only ones being asked to compromise are conservatives. Progressive congregations and conferences forge ahead with “welcoming” and “affirming” and even licensing for pastoral ministry practicing gay and lesbian individuals, including those in covenanted relationships.
Would not a more balanced compromise be characterized by welcoming and loving every sinner, no matter how great or small the sin, as did Christ with the woman caught in adultery, but then challenging them, as Christ did, to go and sin no more? Rather than arguing that “welcoming” requires “affirming” behavior that is at odds with both Old and New Testament teaching, we should emulate the response of the early church to active members of the military, welcoming and discipling them, but disallowing them from membership and leadership positions until their lives come into conformity with scriptural teaching.
Rather than succumbing to the exegetical and theological gymnastics required to “prove” that the Scriptures support a practice that is consistently condemned in both the Old and New Testaments, we should follow the example of the Berean church in Acts 17. The church listened respectfully to the Apostle Paul but then searched the Scriptures to determine whether Paul’s message was consistent with its teaching.
What we want to hear
In our own history as Anabaptists, Conrad Grebel, Felix Manz and George Blaurock challenged Ulrich Zwingli in Zurich when his teaching and actions fell short of the first-century church and scriptural standards. Today, should we not similarly challenge pastors, conference leaders, seminary professors and college administrators who support practices that deviate from both denominational and scriptural teaching?
Our human nature is marked by an inclination to seek out voices that tell us what we want to hear rather than those that speak what the Lord wants us to hear. John 1 tells us that Jesus “came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” To extend grace without truth is to offer a false gospel. We shortchange the Spirit if we extend grace without acknowledging the Spirit’s power to assist each one of us in dealing with our own thorns in the flesh.
For those who argue that science necessitates a change in the church’s approach to this issue, a thorough review of the literature reveals at most a partial genetic contribution to homosexual orientation. Would we similarly use the science that supports a biological basis for alcoholism to argue in favor of affirming alcoholics? Science is simply not equipped to determine issues of morality.
My experiences in academic medicine and the molecular biology lab have taught me that science is a wonderful tool but also very fallible. The medical dogma taught to me 35 years ago in medical school has, in some cases, turned 180 degrees. Practices that were once considered malpractice are now the standard of care, and vice versa.
MC USA would do well to avoid the hubris that leads us to believe our generation is wiser than 3,500 years of scriptural witness and Judeo-Christian practice. Paul’s counsel in Romans 12, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” is needed as much by the church today as it was 2,000 years ago.
Will it flourish or die?
We also need to listen to our brothers and sisters in the developing world. Progressives applaud these brothers and sisters when they condemn our North American materialism but turn a deaf ear when they speak to issues of sexual morality.
We should also listen to those such as Wesley Hill, a celibate gay man who is assistant professor of New Testament at Trinity School for Ministry (Christianity Today, September 2014) and who has struggled with his own sexual orientation yet seeks to live in a way that remains true to scriptural teaching.
In Acts 5, Gamaliel counseled the Sanhedrin to give the new Christian sect time. If it was of God, it would flourish, and they would not be able to stop it. If it was not of God, it would die out. He could well give the same counsel to MC USA members today who seek compromise over clear scriptural teaching.
MC USA may gain a few new members by choosing a more “politically correct” approach to noncelibate homosexuals, but it is already losing far more members and congregations, and possibly conferences, due to this compromise between cultural and scriptural standards. At the same time, more conservative Anabaptist groups in North America and Anabaptist groups in the developing world are growing.
Don R. Martin is a member of Weavers Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va.
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