It’s a commentary on the modern church and a sign of the times that a book promoting a pro-homosexual interpretation of the Bible could be released by a well known Christian publishing house, authored by a self-identified gay evangelical, applauded broadly by the world, and endorsed by some in the church.
Matthew Vines has penned God and the Gay Christian in hopes of changing our minds about the scripture and human sexuality. His success will be determined by the level of Biblical ignorance existing within the church, and the degree of boldness or timidity we have when confronting error. He’s pitched, and what he’s thrown is a well-articulated, earnest argument for a whole new way of thinking. The ball is now solidly in our court.
In response, let’s briefly summarize a few of the main points he’s asking us to consider.
3 of Vine’s Key Points
He’s asking us to realize homosexuality is unchangeable, so if a homosexual is also a believer, that believer can never marry because he’ll never be attracted to a woman. In light of God’s assertion that it’s not good for man to be alone, Vines declares it’s likewise not good to tell gay or lesbian Christians they cannot marry someone of their own sex, because their only other option will be forced celibacy, consigning them to be what God said they shouldn’t be: alone.
But surely it’s not that simple. Many homosexual people, even non Christians, have married and produced children. Later in life they may have embraced their homosexuality and left their marriages, as many have, but their own experience tells us that many who are attracted to the same sex can and do marry, have normal sexual relations, and sire offspring. They may retain attractions to the same sex, but that hardly means they’re forced to give in those attractions. And if a married person is attracted to someone other than their spouse, does it really mean they’re doomed to say yes to those attractions? If so, few marriages would still be in place.
Vines asks us to view the homosexuality forbidden in scripture as something different than what we see today. In Biblical times, he claims, same sex acts were often and largely based on exploitation – a master having sex with his slave, for example, or an adult male copulating with a younger boy, or wildly licentious, promiscuous liaisons – but today we have adult to adult, loving and committed same sex couples. Moses and Paul knew nothing of such couples when they wrote their condemnations of homosexuality, he argues, therefore what Moses and Paul condemned was nothing like the same sex unions we see today.
But neither Moses nor Paul in their respective writings on the subject (Leviticus 18:20; 20:13, Romans 1:23-24; I Corinthians 6: 9-10 and I Timothy 1: 9-10) wrote negatively about any particular form of homosexuality. Rather, their criticism was of the thing itself – men coupling with men; women with women – no matter what context the coupling took place in. To say Paul condemned only exploitive homosexual relationships make no more sense than declaring he condemned only exploitive adultery. Many adulterous relationships are, in fact, loving and respectful, yet the thing itself is condemned no matter what context it takes place in. Ditto for incest, fornication, prostitution or homosexuality.
Vines would also have us believe the word arsenokoite, which Paul used in I Corinthians 6:9-10 and I Timothy 1:9-10 when referencing homosexuality, actually means something other than homosexuality. But the word is coined directly from the Greek translation of the Old Testament prohibitions against homosexuality found in Leviticus, so Paul could hardly have had any other behavior in mind when he used the term arsenokoite.
So Now What?
In Ephesians 2:10, Paul referred to the church as God’s “workmanship”, the Greek word for which is poema, from which we get our word “poem.” God’s the poet; we’re the poem – His earthly work of art; His visible representatives. That puts both tremendous honor and responsibility on us because, as His workmanship, we’ve been commissioned to represent Him accurately. John said as much himself, when he reminded his readers:
“He who says he abides in Him ought so to walk as He walked.” (I John 2:6)
And when describing how He walked, John mentions two of Jesus’ most noticeable qualities:
“—and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1: 14)
A compromise of grace is s serious matter.
Imagine a doctor seeing a patient with a rare disease who, after examining him, curls his lower lip with distain and says, “I’ve seen lots of sick people, but you’re the sickest. Your problem’s rare and disgusting; I can barely stand treating you for it, but here’s a prescription anyway.”
The doctor is correct in telling the patient he has a problem, and in offering him a remedy. But that’s about all he’s correct about. His attitude is deplorable; his words brutal. He’s guilty of atrocious bedside manners, so could we really blame the patient if he reacts negatively?
But compromised truth is no less atrocious.
Imagine another doctor, one who loves to be liked. Upon discovering his patient’s life threatening illness, he fears the reaction he’ll get when he tells the patient and his family. They won’t like him; they’ll be upset at what he says, and he can’t handle the tension. So he calls the illness something else – something nicer; less offensive. The patient’s happy, nobody’s offended, and the doctor is still well liked.
A growing segment of the church seems guilty of similar malpractice. In our desire to be seeker friendly and sensitive, we’re in danger of shunning truth, and all the inconvenience and discomfort it evokes, because we hate confrontation, need to be liked, and prefer large churches to truthful ones.
And while our desire to be non-offensive seems noble to some, I can’t help but wonder where I’d be if the only Christian messages I heard were the “nice” ones.
Because believe me, few people recognize their need for salvation by being told how right they are, nor are people born again by being made comfortable in their sin. Perhaps one of the greatest errors infecting modern Christian thought is the presumption that if people like us, then we’ve reached them. Yet Titus Brandsma, a Christian martyr who died at Dachau in 1942, had a more Biblical perspective on the matter:
“Those who want to win the world for Jesus Christ must have the courage to come into conflict with it.”
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, then, the church’s ability to withstand the claims of Vines and others will be determined by our willingness to be inconvenienced. It will be inconvenient to study pro-gay theology and learn how to refute it. It will certainly be inconvenient to train up Christian spokesmen to stand for truth in our campuses, television studios, and sanctuaries. Establishing ministries in our churches to repentant homosexuals will be inconvenient and controversial. And getting involved with them, through one on one discipleship and relating, will no doubt be a major inconvenience as well.
Yet nothing less will do. And should we refuse to be inconvenienced, and let the tide wash over us, for whom but ourselves do we think the bell is going to toll?
I once held Vine’s viewpoint, but I was graciously brought to repentance in 1984 and blessed beyond measure by loving friends who took me in when I repented. Strong brothers welcomed me into their fellowship. I was forgiven, accepted, and restored. I could only wish the same for every woman or man in a similar place. And perhaps, with an awakening among Christians to our need for each other no matter what our background or former sins, more prodigals will find a celebration waiting for them when they, too, return to their father’s house.
That’s not a pipe dream. Episcopal seminarian William Frey envisioned it some time ago, and, as he relates it, it sounds to me like nothing more than basic Christianity:
“One of the most attractive features of the early Christian communities was their radical sexual ethic and their deep commitment to family values. These things drew many people to them who were disillusioned by the promiscuous excesses of what proved to be a declining culture. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for our church to find such counter cultural courage today?”
And entirely possible.