In a recent address the current president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, Bishop Bruce Ough, implored his colleagues to be open to having Christ change their minds. Some major metanoia (Koine Greek for repent which more literally means “a change of mind”) is certainly in order. Unfortunately, Bishop Ough’s idea of a change of mind seems to only go in one direction as his use of the common progressive buzz words would indicate. According to Bishop Ough, if we would only be open to Christ changing our minds we will find ourselves “freed to replicate Jesus’ pattern of expanding the boundaries of whom God loves and includes in the Kingdom.” It’s no mystery that he thinks that of necessity would involve the Church accepting and even celebrating everyone under the rainbow, so to speak, including the behavioral expression of what he sees as God-given sexual orientations and gender identities.
The truth is the true Church already welcomes and includes everyone from any background and has since Jesus gave the great commission, although the Spirit, as Bishop Ough alludes to in his reference to the Book of Acts, had to guide the church into the full meaning and implications of the mission to the Gentiles. As the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 indicates, the blessing of God’s election of Israel was always meant to include the Gentiles, that is all the peoples of every nation on earth. By its very nature the Church commissioned by Christ Jesus and set apart by the Spirit of God is inclusive of all people of every nation and background, including those whose sexual desires have been corrupted by sin (i.e. all of us).
This certainly does not mean, however, that every set of sexual desires, proclivities, and practices will be included, commended, or recommended in the church. The genuine inclusive nature of the church is summed up well by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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 6:9-11 ESV
Because of God’s great love for the world and everyone in it, we are all invited to come as we are, but not to stay as we came!
Now I know some are going to continue to argue that sexual immorality here, as elsewhere in the New Testament, does not really condemn all sexual activity outside of natural marriage traditionally understood as a covenant union of one man and one woman. And I know some are going to argue that the Bible, Old and New Testaments, never really condemned committed same-sex unions (although it is becoming impossible to believe that sex confined to monogamous marital unions is a satisfactory norm for progressives as I and others have demonstrated before–see here and here). The official position of the so-called “centrist” (“contextualist”? see Dr. Chris Ritter’s assessment of the re-branding here) movement, the Uniting Methodists, is: “We believe our differences on the questions of same-sex marriage and ordination stem from differences over biblical interpretation, not biblical authority.”
Some sincerely believe this, I’m sure. But undoubtedly there are others who know this is not true, but will go along with it because it is obviously more marketable than just admitting that they are in fact rejecting the authority of Scripture. One of their leaders, Adam Hamilton, certainly one of the most influential United Methodist pastors in America, is clearly on record saying that he does not believe that all Scripture is inspired by God. He also diminishes the special inspiration of the Bible in general when he says the Bible is inspired “in the same way and to the same degree as many contemporary preachers and prophets and even ordinary Christians have been inspired by the Spirit in every age” (Making Sense of the Bible, 294 as quoted by David Watson in Scripture and the Life of God). It is just not credible that the progressive “centrists/contextualists” have the same view of the authority of Scripture. How far we have fallen from John Wesley’s view of Scripture!
In his introduction to his notes on the New Testament Wesley said:
The Scripture therefore of the Old and New Testament, is a most solid and precious system of Divine truth. Every part thereof is worthy of God; and all together are one entire body, wherein is no defect, no excess. It is the fountain of heavenly wisdom, which they who are able to taste, prefer to all writings of men, however wise, or learned, or holy.
As always the question is not whether someone says they too believe in the authority of Scripture, the question is, what exactly do they mean by the authority of Scripture? I don’t think traditionalists and progressive/centrists mean the same thing at all.
Nevertheless, some are still going to make the more marketable argument that they really do still have a high view of Scripture but simply believe the church has historically misinterpreted the Bible to condemn all forms of homosexual relationships. They will insist the Bible says nothing in condemnation of committed same-sex relationships. Some, I do not doubt, are genuinely sincere in this belief, although I sincerely believe they are sorely deceived. As Dr. Tim Tennent says in his assessment of this claim, “the exegetical case for this is not defensible.” (see full article here)
Although I know some sincerely believe the revisionist arguments, it’s not a given that everyone making these arguments is sincere.
In their book, Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition, Donald Fortson and Rollin Grams relays the following regarding the revisionist arguments of the now deceased Yale professor, John Boswell:
Commenting on Boswell’s book, Homosexuality, Intolerance and Christianity, gay author John Lauritsen writes: It is not surprising that Professor Boswell has been enthusiastically hailed by the gay Christians, to whom he appears as a new Savior who will rescue them not only from queer-hating religionists, but from gay liberation secularists as well, by demonstrating historically that it’s all right to be a gay Christian. . . . I cannot remember reading a more frustrating book. Undeniably, it is a formidable work of scholarship. . . . On the other hand, Boswell’s arguments, his use of evidence, are fatally flawed by his doomed attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. . . . It is regrettable that one must be harsh on a work with such considerable merit, but willful dishonesty in a scholar must not be condoned. . . . We should invite John Boswell to join gay liberation wholeheartedly; he has skills and knowledge that we need. To join us, Boswell must first extricate himself from the impossible position he’s in: attempting to reconcile Christianity and homosexuality. It would be an act of maturity for Boswell to graduate from Christianity to secular humanism….. (Unchanging Witness, location 7734-7745 Kindle edition).
Revisionist arguments that find support for homosexual relationships in the Bible have repeatedly proven to be untenable. Despite the vitriolic epithet given to traditionalist Christians above by John Lauritsen, we are not driven by hatred of anyone. Rather we are driven by a love for the God who washed us, sanctified us, and justified us, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God and a desire to live faithfully with integrity according to God’s word.
I agree with Bishop Ough that we do indeed need to be open to change. But the change I envision goes in a different direction. As I’ve said before, the way forward is the way backward—the old fashioned way of repentance! United Methodists do indeed stand at a crossroads.
Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls….” Jeremiah 6:16
Will United Methodists respond as the majority in Israel did at the time as the rest of Jeremiah 6:16 reveals? “But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.'”
The way forward is the way back! For those with ears to hear, you “shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it’ …. (Isaiah 30:21).