Understanding the Debate within Churches Over Sexual Identity

The 500th Anniversary of the New Testament in the Language of the People 1522 – 2022

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Understanding the Debate Within Churches Over Sexual Identity and Behavior

Why is there a Debate?

The purpose of this blog is to provide a perspective on the controversy over marriage and sexual behaviors in the institution of the “church.” Rather than taking a position, the intent of this article is to provide information on the affirmative and negative (status quo) side of the issue. Through discussion there should be an informed debate and understanding.

History of Debates

The church, as an institution, has had debates on theological and social issues over the centuries. The Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church divided in 1054 A.D. over the presence of statues, the date of Easter, and the authority of the Pope. The Protestant Reformation divided the Roman Catholic Church in 1517 over the authority of the Pope, forgiveness of sins, and the marriage of clergy. July 1519 marks the 500th year anniversary of the Leipzig Debate between Martin Luther and Johann Eck over the authority of God’s Word, the distinction between the law and the gospel, the errors of people and institutions, and the absolute forgiveness of sins by Jesus Christ. Andreas Karlstadt and Philipp Melanchton also contributed to the debate with Luther.

The house arrest of Galileo, Index of Prohibited Books, Inquisition, infallibility of the Pope, Scope’s Trial on the teaching of evolution in schools, contraception, population control, abortion, are examples of conflicts that have been debated by clergy and Christians. Some of these issues are still being debated within the church, society, and families.

The LGBT community represents almost 15% of the population in the United States, a significant minority with millions of American families accepting LGBT persons as family, neighbors, colleagues. In the decade of the 1920s following World War I, the gay community became more visible until the McCarthy Hearings in 1950. The 1969 Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village marked a turning point in the problems the LGBT community faced. Harvey Milk became the first openly gay politician who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco in 1977. In the 1980s, the homosexual community was affected by the AIDS epidemic. This epidemic led to the identification of people seeking treatment and millions of others who died from AIDS. In 2003 Massachusetts became the first state to recognize gay marriage and today all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) recognize or perform same sex marriages in some capacity.

The Christian church has consistently taught that God knows us before we are born, is the creator of life, and calls people to faith in baptism. Many Christians understand marriage as either a sacrament or part of God’s plan and not necessarily the result of free will or a decision by two adults. It is similar to the “call” one receives to enter the holy ministry. The question of marriage and the amount of free will or foreknowledge by God is important to discuss.

The Church Proclaims God’s Grace

All are welcome

God’s timeless Word reveals His plan for humanity and His intentions for marriage and sexuality. God’s grace is for all who are baptized and believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. Although churches may not approve or validated a same sex marriage, premarital sex, a change in gender from a birth certificate, prostitution, adultery, the church recognizes that the sinful nature of humanity impacts each of us. However, in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven and become a new creation.

Romans 3: 21-26: “But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood-to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished- 26he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

John 3: 16-17: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.”

The Church Teaches God’s Love!

Galatians 5:14 “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

James 4:12 “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

Romans 13:8-10 “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”

John 8:7-11 “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

The Church Teaches That the Bible is the Inspired Word of God

Judaism and Christianity are “revealed religions” because they are based on God’s direct communication with His people on Earth through Abraham, Moses, prophets, and apostles.

The most explicit account of this is in Paul’s second letter to Timothy. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16)

When Jesus was with us on Earth, he unequivocally accepted the authority of Scripture and He applied it to every contemporary situation. When Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days after His baptism, he quoted the Bible in His encounters with Satan. He respected the faith of the Jews and corrected their unbelief.

Martin Luther spoke of the authority of the Bible at the Diet of Worms in 1521, “–unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason…I do not accept the authority of popes or councils, for they have contradicted each other…my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen.” (Roland Bainton, Here I Stand)

When the church has been faced with challenges, as they were with the verse that the sun stood still, the creation of the world in seven days, the Great Flood, or the Virgin birth, the position has been that the translation is in error or the limitation of human understanding.

12 On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon, and you, moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.” 13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies, as it is written in the Book of Jashar. The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. 14 There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a human being. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel! (Joshua: 10:12-14)

The Words of Scripture on Sexual Ethics

The verses below are not presented in an order of importance, except that I separated the verses in the Old Testament from the New Testament. They are provided only as information to explain the controversy or debate with some churches or between individuals. There is always the danger of citing a verse without offering the context in the Bible or the situation at the time.

The verses below are from the New Testament of the Bible:

Mark 10:6-9 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

 Romans 1:26-28 “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. 28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done.”

 Hebrews 13:4 “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”

1 Timothy 1:8-11 “We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. 9 We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, 10 for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine 11 that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

1 Corinthians 6:17-20 “But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 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.”

1 Corinthians 7:2 “But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.”

Jude 1:7-8 “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. 8 In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings.”

Matthew 19-6

The verses below are in the Old Testament of the Bible:

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

Leviticus 18:22 “‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.’”

Leviticus 20:13 “‘If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.’”

Perspective of Martin Luther

In the first five volumes of Luther’s collected works there are over one thousand explicit references to the verbal inspiration of Scripture! Martin Luther and John Calvin were very clear in their understanding that God is the author of the Bible and although it is written by people it is the inspired and revealed Word of God. Therefore, it is not appropriate to select or delete words, verses, or sections. The entire Bible must be accepted as the Word of God.

Martin Luther made no new claims concerning the nature of the Scripture. Luther writes “We must make a great difference between God’s Word and the word of man. A man’s word is a little sound, that flies in the air, and soon vanishes; but the Word of God is greater than heaven and earth, yea greater than death and hell, for it forms part of the power of God and endures everlastingly; we should therefore, diligently study God’s Word and assuredly believe that God Himself speaks to us.” (Martin Luther, 1848 “The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, tr. by W. Hazlitt”, 20)

Luther also wrote, “It is cursed unbelief and odious flesh which will not permit us to see and know that God speaks to us in Scripture and that it is God’s Word, but tells us that it is merely the word of Isaiah, Paul or some other man who has not created heaven and earth. (Robert Preus, “Luther: Word, Doctrine and Confession” Doctrine Is Life: Essays on Scripture. St. Louis: Concordia, 2006, 264)

Comments: hbitten@reverendluther.org

 

 

 

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