Opinion: Scripture, not compromise

If we extend grace without truth, we offer a false gospel

May 25, 2015 by

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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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  • Scott R. Troyer

    Conservative members of the church are not the only people being asked to compromise. Progressive voices inside MC USA are compromising simply by being a part of an institution with harmful and violent anti-LGBTQ policies that refuses to acknowledge the way in which it has harmed so many people over the years. Conservatives are not compromising as much as Don might claim because their position is still the official position of MC USA.

    The connection that Don draws between adultery (and later alcoholism) and LGBTQ individuals is not a supportable line of comparison. We disapprove of of adultery and alcoholism because they cause emotional and physical harm to individuals, families, and communities. Being in a loving same-sex relationship causes no harm to anybody.

    The “exegetical and theological gymnastics” Don refers to are no more convoluted than the justifications for many other Anabaptist beliefs. There is plenty of support in the bible for war, slavery, and all other manner of unspeakable horrors. It is our ability to read scripture and interpret it in context that allows us to say with assurance that peace, love, and justice are biblical principles. People use these “theological gymnastics” to justify, their consumption of pork, their practice of not paying their employees at the conclusion of the work day, the fact that they have possessions that they have not given to the poor, and the way they allow women to walk around without head coverings or allow them to wear braids. Far from “theological gymnastics,” the justification for deviating from scripture on these points is sound biblical interpretation.

    Finally, I would also offer the same counsel that Gamaliel gave to the Sanhedrin: give the LGBTQ acceptance movement time and it will flourish if it is from God, and those opposed will be revealed as having been “fighting against God.” I think we begin to see the answer to this question in the way that support for LGBTQ members and clergy has been steadily growing.

    • Linda Rosenblum

      “Being in a loving same-sex relationship causes no harm to anybody.”
      I would disagree and the Bible disagrees. Your argument comes from popular culture not Scripture.

      18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 1 Cor 6:18-19

      Linda Rosenblum

      • John Bekert

        Being in a same-sex relationship is between them and God. Why is the gay life style being forced on everyone, don’t try to make Christians accept same-sex life style!

        Cor 6:18-20

        18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.Therefore honor God with your bodies.

        • Scott R. Troyer

          I don’t recall anyone trying to force others to live a “gay life style.” We would just like to not be punished for following where they Holy Spirit leads us. Is that so much to ask? Isn’t that what the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century asked? Also, since we do not consider a loving same-sex relationship to be immoral, the 1 Corinthians quotations don’t really apply.

          • Elaine Fehr

            Where in scripture do you find the Holy Spirit leading people into a gay life style, and with His blessing, remain in it?

          • Linda Rosenblum

            Well there is where the discussion ends then doesn’t it? There is really no middle ground here. Either sin is sin or it’s not. No you are not forcing a gay lifestyle on others but you are asking them to accept sin into the covenanted body of believers against the vows we thought we all agreed upon in the Confession of Faith. So yes 1 Cor quotes do apply if you agree with the Mennonite Confession of Faith. Linda Rosenblum

          • Scott R. Troyer

            I think you missed my point. The Anabaptists of the sixteenth century by and large did not want to force the entire church to live as they did. They wanted to be a part of the church but be allowed to follow their convictions. They saw themselves as of the same family. As Menno Simon [sic] puts it “…we are with you descended from one father, Adam, and from one mother, Eve, and are created by the same God, having a common entrance into this world, are clothed with the same nature, desiring rest and peace, concerned for wives and children as well as you, and naturally, as all other creatures on earth, fearful of death.” As one who celebrates our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, I am willing to stay in the body with those who do not, because we are all a part of the same family, sons of Adam and daughters of Eve, fellow humans who share a certain heritage and value the peace, love, and tolerance modeled by Jesus. There are those, however, who desire to divide our community by excluding not only LGBTQ individuals, but also their allies. I am not asking you to accept LGBTQ people. I am asking you to allow us to accept them while recognizing that we are part of the same family.

          • Linda Rosenblum

            And how is that different from those who wish to follow their convictions about homosexuality deciding to leave and allowing those who disagree to remain in a church that they feel is misguided? Isn’t that exactly what the 16th century Anabaptists that you are referring to did? I am confused because you seem to be saying and I don’t see what your point is. Yes we are all created in the image of God but we don’t all follow Scripture in the same way. Linda Rosenblum

          • John Gingrich

            Scott, I understand your argument but I want to challenge one phrase you use in your argument. “…the peace, love, and tolerance modeled by Jesus”. In Matt 7, the same chapter where Jesus tells us not to judge, in verse 23 he says, “I will tell them plainly, I never knew you, away from me you evildoers.”
            Sounds like excluding and separation to me. Agreed, the anger is most often directed at the religious hypocrites but he would be criticized as very intolerant today in his demands for righteousness.

  • Gary Hill


  • Ray Horst

    Our sacred writings matter as we seek God’s will, but what do we do about Deuteronomy 23? Shall we resume our lost obedience to this command to exclude from the Lord’s assembly any man who has damaged or missing reproductive organs? Must we reject any person born to illegitimate parents, to the tenth generation? Did the Hebrew community sin when, contrary to Deut. 23:3, they accepted Ruth, the Moabite who became the great-grandmother of King David and step-ancestor of Jesus?
    Should we discard our belief that slavery is immoral, since the Bible implicitly condones it? Shall we obey the Bible by stoning to death people guilty of adultery, as well as children who curse their parents?
    Did we Mennonites come to accept divorced and remarried persons into the church by following a worldly culture, or by weighing the moral considerations of abusive marriages and of healthy second marriages?
    We could compile a long list of Scriptural commands which we no longer observe. The church demonstrates a lengthy history of widening the reach of God’s grace to needy humans.

    • Edgar Miller

      Ray I am wondering then how we discern which scriptures to hold fast to and which to
      discard totally? Perhaps one way to do this is to look the creation story in Genesis
      and try to understand God’s intentions when he created “the heavens and the
      earth.” I would suggest that there is a certain order to God’s creation. There is
      balance. There is creation and the expectation of re-creation at every turn. Plants
      produce seeds, animals have mates, human beings, male and female, all of this
      was created to re-create or to continue to process of creation.

      Jesus echos God’s command in Genesis 2, when in Matthew 19 he says, “‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. I believe that it is God’s will to restore creation to what he originally created. With God’s words in Genesis, and Jesus’ confirmation, we have a glimpse into what His intention was and is for the re-creation of the human race. I cannot find anything to the contrary in the Bible that would indicate otherwise and permit same sex relationships. In fact, I find just the opposite. It was when sin came into the world, that God’s intended re-creation was disrupted by the master of dis-order.

      • Ray Horst

        Acts 15 gives us a good example of how early Christians decided to discard the command to circumcise males.

    • Richard Worden Wilson

      Ray, I know this is an old discussion but I thought I should point out that for Anabaptists it was clearly the New Testament/Covenant that determined what aspects of the Old Testament were to be upheld and which to be transcended/abandoned as unnecessary for the obedient disciples of Christ. Worrying about what to do with specific parts of the Torah not affirmed by Apostolic teaching soon came to be seen as non-relevant (this applied not just to religious/sacrificial law but covenantal law at least as applied to gentiles like most of us.

      Divorce and remarriage can be a bit complicated, but Jesus did offer an exception clause for those wanting to remarry if the previous spouse had engaged in adultery: “except for sexual immorality.” Matt. 19:8 I understand this to imply that if there has been no adultery on the part of a spouse one should remain open to reconciliation, until death. That may seem a bit legalistic to some, but strict obedience to the teaching of Jesus seems to require it if we are willing to “observe/obey” everything Jesus taught. Matt. 28:20 Widening God’s inclusion beyond what he has included is not our prerogative.

  • John Bekert

    Conservative members of the church are asked to close their eyes to all the teachings in the Bible about homosexuals.
    1 Corinthians 6:9 proclaims that homosexual “offenders” will not inherit the kingdom of God.

  • Berry Friesen

    Don, I appreciate your reference to “welcoming and discipling” active members of the military. I am not well-acquainted with district conference norms in that regard, but expect we would find them helpful as we discern whether the existing Membership Guideline on sexuality needs to be updated.

    Updating the text of the Guideline would require delegate action and this seems to be beyond our capacity at the moment. But it is not too much to ask for an updated interpretation of the existing provision, which as currently understood is certainly not missional.

    Toward that end, it would be hugely helpful if traditionally-minded conferences stepped forward now and stated they do not regard the existing Membership Guidelines on sexuality to forbid the exercise of usual pastoral and congregational discernment in working with gay and lesbian individuals, couples and families so long as the Confession of Faith is honored.

  • Roger Horst

    I have little disagreement with anything in Don’s article. However, the camel’s nose is no longer the only thing under the tent. By virtue of MCUSA leadership’s dithering on this issue, the entire camel is now in the Menno tent. When leaders at the top of MCUSA can only muster tepid opposition referring to the practice of homosexuality being “at variance with Church polity” rather than “being in opposition to Holy Scripture”, the battle is over. When the leaders at the top say the practice of homosexuality is against Church polity but then place persons who openly support that agenda into positions of leadership and planning for Convention, the battle is over. The camel is in the tent. This battle has waged for far too many years. At this juncture, few minds will be won over either way. The arguments from both sides have been legion but conversions exiguous. Few will repent and turn from their “recalcitrant ways.” This is why MCUSA is finished as we know it. This issue goes to the very core of so many person’s beliefs. The term “unequally yoked” comes to mind. Ervin Stutzman’s “Third Way” may be idealistic but is as unfeasible as a screen door on a submarine. (apologies to Rich Mullins for re-writing a line from one of his songs) The question for MCUSA leadership now is “Will they facilitate an amicable disillusionment or will they stand by and watch the mass exodus because of member’s inability to abide with the camel”?

    • Brian Arbuckle

      Roger, you are right to highlight the role leadership has played in this matter. Are they not the gravediggers for MCUSA?

  • Conrad Martin

    Thanks, Don for this thoughtful article.

  • Edgar Miller

    Thanks Don for a well reasoned article.

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