It was a conversation with a lesbian student at the Divinity school that convinced me to “Pay attention to this issue.” After a brief exchange about whether or not a homosexual can be a Christian, she blurted out, “We’re going to change the churches. Give us 30 years, and it will happen.” Some 30 years later, that revolution is taking shape. We see it in principally two ways. One, very aggressive in nature. The other, slow and intrusive.
The question of the so-called gay Christian has been on my mind since my days as a student at Yale Divinity School, a campus abounding with LGBTQ people. I still recall the sexual promiscuity in the Divinity dorm rooms, the annual “Gay Lesbian Awareness Days” (G.L.A.D.) sponsored by the University, and more.
Still, it was a conversation with a lesbian student at the Divinity school that convinced me to “Pay attention to this issue.” After a brief exchange about whether or not a homosexual can be a Christian, she blurted out, “We’re going to change the churches. Give us 30 years, and it will happen.”
Some 30 years later, that revolution is taking shape. We see it in principally two ways. One, very aggressive in nature. The other, slow and intrusive. Let’s take a look at both ways beginning with the overtly assertive approach.
No one example highlights the aggressive tactic of the LGBTQ agenda to infiltrate the evangelical churches better than the May 18th event at Northland Church in Orlando, Florida. Led by The Reformation Project, led by Matthew Vines—an avowed homosexual—the stated purpose of the event was to hold “a public conversation on how churches can be more inclusive and supportive of LGBTQ people in and around Orlando.”
To be clear, Vines does not wish to help those who struggle with homosexual temptation live a godly life. This would be a conversation worth having. Instead, Vines is a full-blown revisionist. His sinister spirit is exactly that of my former lesbian associate at Yale—the total restructuring of the historic, Christian ethic on homosexuality.
In keeping with Vines’ agenda, his pro-gay apologetic at the Northland gathering went unchecked. Without the senior pastor, Dr. Joel Hunter, repositioning the conversation according to the Bible, what were attendees to think? This is the truly shocking aspect of the Northland event. Pastor is the highest calling. The first job of any shepherd is to protect his sheep from wolves. Dr. Hunter went as far as to permit wolves unencumbered access to the fold.
In addition to the brazen move by The Reformation Project is a second, less audacious way, in which homosexuality is finding acceptance in the many evangelical churches. It comes to us in the form of the person who says he wants to be a follower of Jesus, but as one with a homosexual orientation. His promise? To practice abstinence from lustful activity. Here is where I will concentrate most of my response, although it applies to Vines as well.
In a piece by John Stott entitled, “I walked away from Alice, the love of my life”: same sex attraction and the cost of discipleship,” the author recounts the touching story of a lesbian who, after studying the Bible, came to realize that “my gay life and behavior were simply not compatible with this holy and all-powerful God.” She then abandoned her partner, Alice, and went on to live a celibate life.
Men and women like the one Stott recounts are throughout evangelical churches. What is more, they have their supporters. “Homosexuality is no different from any other sin.” “Don’t we all struggle with something?” So how might one respond to questions such as these in an informed and loving way?
The principle problem with the idea that one can be a Christian just as long as he keeps his homosexual orientation under strict subjugation is this: Lordship.
The Lord does many things when we receive Christ in salvation. I will review just a few.
The Lord removes the guilt of sin (Ps. 31:2; Rom. 8:33)1
The Lord removes the penalty of sin (Eph.1:6).
Were the process to stop here, we might agree that a homosexual can be a Christian as long as he keeps a tight lid on his sexual desires. But there’s one more thing we need to consider.
The Lord destroys the dominion of sin (Rom. 6:14).
Consequently, the Christian has a new nature (2 Cor. 5:17). His identity is no longer in the “old self,” but is in the “new self” (Col. 3:9-10). Who is the new self? It is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Christ is his new orientation, not homosexuality. Put differently, he is no longer a slave of sin, but is a slave of righteousness (Rom. 6:7-8; 18), free to explore the full range of his created sexuality as it comes from the hand of God, and according to God’s sexual ethic recorded in the Bible.
To use the language of “orientation,” should a homosexual become a Christian, and many have, not only is he made free from sin’s guilt and condemnation, but also, he is free from his native orientation to sin. His gay “ness” has found its match. Why then does the woman in Stott’s story feel she cannot marry a man, but instead must remain celibate? Does she not see that the “cost of discipleship” also involves the death of her sexual attraction to women at the hands of Christ?
The basic problem with the supposed gay Christian who promises to maintain control of his orientation is that it is the Lord who exercises dominion over sin, not the Christian.
Unless the Lord destroys the dominion of sin, we remain a slave of sin, and not a Christian. What Jesus does, however, is so very beautiful. He does not ask us to look good on the outside while remaining unchanged on the inside. By taking charge of all that we are, He transforms us from within.
Christ’s dominion in the life of the believer raises many questions on the ongoing battle with sin, which all Christians experience. I will make but two brief points on this issue relative to the subject of homosexual orientation.
First, it might be helpful to clarify the concept of “orientation.” What are we really dealing with? Are we talking about the dominion of sin? Or just a strong pattern of temptation familiar to every Christian?
What the self-professed gay Christian wants us to think is that his orientation is nothing more than a strong pattern of temptation, no different than what each believer faces. In that the Bible does not use the term orientation, a biblical analysis of the phrase is impossible. However, according to the dictionary, orientation means “the state of being oriented.”2
That definition, and the fact that we never hear of a change of orientation in supposed gay Christians, but only of their commitment to remain chaste, suggests that the word orientation, as applied to human behavior, is far closer in meaning to what dominion of sin means in Scripture. However, without the dominion of sin being broken, the picture of the gay Christian is equivalent to a unicorn sighting.
The clearest term in Scripture for what born-again Christians struggle against is what Paul calls “indwelling sin” (Rom. 7:20). Theologians also call this the pollution of sin. In Romans 7:14-25 and 8:11, the apostle elaborates on the Christian conflict with indwelling sin.
What is important to note in Paul’s teaching on this conflict is that he does not speak of the old and the new natures as two equally opposing principles. “Indwelling sin”, lit. oikeo, means “to dwell in.” Yet Romans 8:11 speaks of the “in-indwelling” Spirit, lit. enoikeo. The additional “in” (En) means the old man and the new man are not equal powers. Rather, the Spirit is a deeper, more powerful presence in the life of the Christian.
What is the point? It is that even if homosexual orientation could be included under “a strong pattern of temptation,” that pattern is not something God intends to leave in place. The “in-indwelling” Spirit is set on cleansing His children from “indwelling sin.” He also intends to use our faith and obedience to do it (Phil. 2:12-13). But where is the struggle with residual sin in the one who says he is a Christian, but who claims that his gay orientation is unchangeable?
This is not to suggest that the Christian can reach sinless perfection in this life. As Thomas Boston said of redemption, “It is a universal change . . . Yet it is but an imperfect change. Though every part of man is renewed, there is no part of him perfectly renewed.”3
Nonetheless, we do have this promise to cling to, “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil.1:6).
The second clarification on the ongoing battle with sin is that salvation includes new appetites for holiness (Rom. 6:1-7). Despite the lingering effects of sin in the Christian life, the Lord has promised to remove our “heart of stone” and to give us a “heart of flesh” (Ezek. 36:26) for what is right.
What I am wondering is why do we not see this new appetite for holiness in the lives of many professed gay Christians? Where is the repulsion over that for which Christ died? Instead, all we hear is their commitment to confine their proclivity, but nothing more.
I am reminded of Spurgeon’s stark warning:
The unsaved sinner loves a salvation from hell.
The true Christian loves a salvation from sin.
Everyone desires to be saved from the pit,
but it is only a child of God who pants to be
saved from every false way.
This brings us full circle. Earlier I said in reference to the May 18th gathering at Northland Church that there is a conversation worth having. That dialog ought to center on how a member of the LGBTQ community can become a Christian. Or it can center on hard questions homosexual people have regarding the gospel.
Regardless, Christians in the discussion must focus on the Lord’s call to be “born again” (John 3:3). And they must speak in gentleness correcting (2 Tim. 2:25). For ultimately, our battle is not against homosexuals, but is against spiritual forces (Eph. 6:12).
In Obergefell v. Hodges, the U.S. Supreme Court permitted same-sex marriage in all 50 states. The effect was to mainstream sodomy in America. This revolution in values is now occurring within churches.
Churches are either succumbing to the one who says he can be a Christian and a practicing homosexual simultaneously. Or they are taking a theologically undiscerning posture to the one who, although he claims to be a Christian that recognizes the sin of homosexuality, adds that we should not expect any change in his fundamental attraction to the same sex.
To both groups of people the Lord says, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to doing evil” (Jer. 13:23).
Dr. John Barber a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is Professor of Theology and Culture at Whitefield Theological Seminary. He has written numerous books and articles on Christianity and culture, and has started two Christian colleges in East and Central Africa. This article first appeared in Barbwire.com and is used with permission.
1This is not to suggest one should not feel guilty over sins committed as a Christian. Christians sin. And guilt reminds us to ask for forgiveness from our heavenly father and to make restitution with a brother where needed.
2“Orientation,” Merriam-Webster.com, 2011, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/orientation date of access: June 3, 2017.
3 Thomas Boston, Human Nature in Its Fourfold State (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, reprint, 1964), 208–209.