Is a right understanding of Marriage an essential issue?
I'm told some Baptists are wondering what to do with churches in the denomination that want to conduct and affirm gay weddings. Is gay-marriage an essential for unity among us, or a non-essential for freedom?
First, in all things love.
That is, if male-female marriage is retained as an essential for unity in the denomination, and changers disagree with that and leave, there can and should still be love between us. Disagreeing doesn't mean we stop caring about each other. No-brainer.
What message would non-affirmation send to LGBTQ people?
1. That love isn't contingent on agreement. It is presumptuous to suggest that affirmation is the only option when it gets personal. Many of us have found there is liberation in being loved in spite of, rather than dependant upon, our disagreements. So we also provide such unconditional love to others. If love is conditional on affirmation, where can you go if you suspect something is wrong? Here is a group who can love you anyway as you investigate the theological, spiritual, psychological, social dimensions. This is the truelove.is testimony of more LBGTQ people than the activists. We can disagree over sexual mores, yet with real love and acceptance of the person, "warts and all," as we used to say.
2. That our definition of marriage and gender involves much more than the two people - God instituted it with male-female specifically built in as a sacred model to the world of Christ and the Church (Eph5). This is a non-negotiable theme in our foundational texts.
"Isn’t marriage a non-essential issue over which we can agree to differ?"
Or is marriage actually sacred, not open to redefinition, an essential at least in the sense of worthy of denominational distinctive. Baptists drew a line about baptism: is marriage of that order?
Here’s the main point (which was mostly omitted during the marriage plebiscite debates, as people debated a handful of passages specifically prohibiting same-sex immorality): marriage is a majestic theme of some 600 verses winding throughout Scripture about marriage/divorce, faithfulness/unfaithfulness, husband/wife, and all in contexts assuming male/female-ness - such that if it is not male/female it is not marriage. This theme includes a special synergy between a man & woman, male-femaleness being part of the original Imageo-Dei (Gen1), and is specifically reiterated by Jesus (Mat19). Marriage is thus a sacred union, an object lesson of Christ and the church, our ultimate destiny in the New Jerusalem, indeed a salvation invitation, “The Spirit and the Bride say “Come!”” (Rev 21,22). This sacred union is therefore not something we can redefine to suit the winds of culture. It is specifically gender-defined by God, as part of our foundational creation, and our eternal destiny, which our puny human marriages are supposed to model in the meantime (Eph5).
"Does this make marriage a salvation issue?"
Does an individual have to understand human marriage in order to be saved, no, salvation is not a theology test. But there must be our marriage-like covenant with, and submission to, Christ in view of his saving sacrifice for us. We’re saying “I do” to Jesus, just like …a marriage. Christ died for his Bride. Marriage (male-female) is part of our image-of-God foundations, our relationship with God, and our ultimate destiny. Faithfulness to marriage is about faithfulness to Jesus, which is about our salvation.
And recently I've observed the convergence of Naturalism and New Age upon the same gnostic sexual experiences as catalysts to evolution & enlightenment. Through Kinsey & communism, to Tantra & occultic revolutions... Why would these worldviews based on such seemingly different foundations land on the same sexual practices and marriage-disdaining worldviews? Because it is the same gnosticism that Paul confronted in his day. And comes from the same pit. Marriage is a prime spiritual battleground. It seems to be more a salvation issue than the world is aware of, and somehow symptomatic of one. Pray into that.
"Was sex a part of any apostles creed?"
Yes, the Jerusalem Council Acts 15:29. No sexual immorality (ie sex outside marriage [which is male-female.])
"Does the fact that sex isn’t in most creeds mean it is not a salvation issue?"
Many sins are not mentioned in the creeds, but that doesn't make them ok. In fact we could say that in Christianity sexual morality was assumed as a given, until now. Likewise the nature of marriage a given.
Moreover a big salvation issue is whether we trust & obey Jesus or not, whether we listen to Jesus and do what he says - and what Jesus says on the nature of marriage is actually pretty clear.
"Is gay marriage like divorce, something we’ll just get used to, and eventually justify?"
Not theologically, because in Mat19 Jesus allows for divorce due to hard-heartedness, but he re-emphasises male—female marriage. You’d have to ignore his affirmation and that big marriage grand-narrative to try to justify it away.
"Don’t we want to see love win, not truth win?"
It’s not either or, it’s only both. If it’s not truthful, it's not really loving. Good intentions alone pave the road to a bad destination. The road to heaven is paved with wisdom, truth in love.
"Isn’t disunity a bad witness?"
Sure, so therefore we should listen to Jesus and sort out what is true on the matter. It is unity in the Spirit of Christ that is a good witness. Truth in love. Not mere contradictory affirmations of whatever, that’d be disunity. What good is salt if it loses its distinctive flavour. Our unity is in seeking first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, allowing him to add to us what we need. When our hearts are filled with love from him, we start to see our true identity is in him, not in sexual identity or any other idolatry. He leads us into his life-giving truth. God does love the whole world, yet not all will be saved. God loves Jew and Gentile alike as both find their unity in Christ - in fact Col3:11 is in a passage specifying putting off the sexually immoral self, and putting on Christ who is all and in all.
"Who decides which way is the truth he will lead us into?"
The wisdom of scripture does indicate what his righteousness looks like. And one’s interpretation of scripture must include ALL the relevant passages, not just a handful, not just the love passages, but the ‘put off’ passages too, and the grand-narrative. So although one might not agree at first with his truth, over time the honest enquirer of the LORD will soon be led in that way.
"So what is a denomination to decide?"
It is fair and fine for Baptists to retain Biblical marriage as a denominational distinctive (it is fair to say that marriage was always assumed to be male-female - until these recent challenges to that unity.) I’d say retain it as we do with baptism, for the sake of truth in love, unity in the Spirit, and scriptural integrity. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things, and if someone disagrees, this too God will make clear to them. Meanwhile they can either concede or secede.
"What about free speech, freedom of conscience?"
Some have falsely compared this situation to Andrew Thornburn's case where we say he should have the right to think differently than Essendon on marriage, yet here we are saying gay-marriage Baptists should not be allowed to so practice within the Baptist union. This is a false comparison. Every club has its social (or formal) contracts, the parameters within which we agree to operate. A footy club is about playing footy, which has nothing to do with sexual mores: if you play footy you're a team-mate, regardless of whatever else you think about other things, we expect you to cooperate around footy. This makes footy a great Third Place community. A church's focus is around following Jesus, which does have something to do with sexual mores: if you seek to serve him, you're a team-mate, but just as there are rules in footy, there are moral parameters in the church within which to teach and protect the flock from wolves. So every denomination or church defines those, and participants are relevantly expected to concede to those. Thornburn's sexual mores are not relevant to footy, and it is totalitarian to say so. But they are relevant to church, where he may discuss divergence but is expected to ultimately concede to the relevant social contract.
"Isn’t that still divisive?"
No, and it's actually manipulative to say so. Every group has agreed parameters. In this case the nature of marriage was always an agreed distinctive. (As a marriage celebrant I have a letter from the Baptists of WA about marriage after the plebiscite that clarifies this.) Now that some seek to change it, it’s not divisive to retain the distinctive. It should simply be a matter of the changer deciding that they are now outside the existing parameters of the group. That happens. And if the group disagrees, you can start your own group with your own parameters. What is divisive is for the changers to claim the retainers are divisive, and try to force a change in the name of "unity" - that’s off topic manipulation and should be rebuffed as such. Get back to thinking and praying about the issue itself. And if retainers resist the change, changers don’t get to take over the group and send retainers off to start their own group. Watch out for that deception.