According to the Holy Scriptures, a Christian who publicly identifies as a homosexual does not meet the qualifications to be an elder in the church. When he “comes out,” he must be “ruled out” as a qualified man to serve as an elder in the church. He doesn’t make the cut. He is not above reproach, no matter how many study committees say otherwise…I believe that the “Side B” status is untenable as we interpret the Scriptures, but just as clearly, where his identity is made public, it disqualifies a man from being an officer in the church. A member who needs help? Yes! But an officer? No!
There have been a number of helpful articles on the Aquila Report recently in regard to a homosexual (gay) pastor in the PCA. Some churches are leaving the PCA. Even if a pastor believes his church should wait for a greater defining-moment to leave, many congregants are forcing the hands of their leadership to exit now. All it takes to leave the PCA is a majority vote of the congregation in a duly called meeting. It appears that the so-called “progressives” have control of the PCA, even though I believe they are a minority. However, history teaches us that committed minorities usually win.
At times I believe that we are beginning to be over-saturated with so much talk about sex. At least I think that I am! However, I believe there are a few further points that need to be made in this debate. Let me proceed with a few passages that are often overlooked in this discussion.
First, in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is dealing with sexual abstinence in both single persons and married couples. Matthew Henry summarizes the first part of the chapter as follows, “He shows them that marriage was appointed as a remedy against fornication, and therefore that persons had better marry than to burn.”
The Corinthian text goes on to say that married couples may practice abstinence, but only for a short time, lest they expose themselves to fornication because of “incontinence (KJV).” Matthew Henry defines incontinence as “the inability to contain.” The New American Standard Version translates the word “incontinence” as a “lack of self-control.” The original Greek is made up of two parts “not” and “power.” Incontinence is a lack of power, might, strength, or dominion to control something in yourself, and this is the state of most Christians in regard to practicing sexual abstinence. Many older people or those who have been subject to certain medical surgeries know what urinary incontinence is. You have no control. You just can’t help it.
Paul says that without marriage, a man has no defense to avoid fornication unless God has specially gifted him with that power as God had so gifted the Apostle Paul. If they had the special gift as Paul did, then they would not be overwhelmed by the temptation to commit fornication. Apart from a special gift of abstinence, the answer to this temptation is not a greater degree of sanctification. It is not a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It not redefining sinful lust as harmless attraction. It is not equating perversion with what is normal. It is not accountability groups. The answer is simple. The answer is marriage. Yes, every pastor knows that even marriage is not a one-hundred percent guarantee. That is not the issue here for Paul. My conclusion is that since Christians who claim to be homosexuals cannot marry those of the same sex, it appears that they are in a hopeless state.
Here is the point. Unless celibate homosexuals have been given a special gift of abstinence by God, at some point temptation in the mind will lead to consummation in the flesh. They are incontinent by their mere existence as men (especially males), and without marriage, they will not be able to control their lust. They may endure for years with the help of accountability groups or internet filters, but they will most likely fall into outright fornication.
So, according to the Holy Scriptures, sexual celibacy without a special gift from God, is nearly impossible for most men and actually impossible for some. It can only result in constant misery for men (and women) who do not have special grace, and in most cases that temptation will result in actual physical sin. I seriously doubt that every celibate homosexual has been given this special grace. This is why so many begin as “Side B” homosexuals (celibate) and move on to the category of “Side A” homosexuals (non-celibate). This whole scenario of a “Side B” homosexual who can remain celibate without a special gift of God is an unbiblical deception.
Secondly, in 1 Corinthians 6:11 it is clear that some of the Christians to whom Paul writes were (in the past tense) homosexuals, but they had been washed, sanctified, and justified “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” This text is not usually overlooked, but often is quoted without further comment. Now, the unavoidable question for me that arises is as follows. Were these Christians delivered from the practice of homosexuality or were they also delivered from both the practice and the temptation (urge) in the heart and mind? The text does not give us a clear answer here. I have heard testimonies from “victorious Christians” who interpret it both ways. Some testify that they have not only been delivered from the act of homosexuality, but also from the temptation (urge). Others testify differently. I have some exegetical uncertainty here myself, so I will leave this question unanswered. However, I will go to another often overlooked text where I believe the Bible speaks clearly and where it tells the church what she must do.
In 1 Timothy 3:2 Paul says that for a man to be an elder, he must be above reproach. He must be blameless before the watchful public eye. He must be “unrebukable.” Paul lists some of the identities that make a man reproachable in chapter 1 of the same Book, where he speaks of the law being made for the unrighteous. He says that the law was made for “the lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, and immoral men, and homosexuals, and kidnapers, and liars, and perjurers and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching…” There, among all these sins, is listed homosexuality (gays). The bottom line is that those who are identified as homosexuals are not qualified for the office of elder in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. They are not above reproach.
If a teaching elder were to have urges that are temptations, and deal with them privately with himself and his God (or with close Christians friends), then that is one thing. Where there is a “coming-out” ceremony for those who identify as celibate homosexuals (gays), this changes everything.
When an elder in the church “comes out” and identifies himself publicly as a homosexual Christian (whether celibate or not), then he will forever be known by the public as that “homosexual pastor.” Generally, Christians should care less about what the public thinks of their beliefs. However, according to the Bible in regard to the choice of officers, it does matter what the public think, that is, “those outside the church” (1 Tim. 3:7). At this point according to the Holy Scriptures, a Christian who publicly identifies as a homosexual does not meet the qualifications to be an elder in the church. When he “comes out,” he must be “ruled out” as a qualified man to serve as an elder in the church. He doesn’t make the cut. He is not above reproach, no matter how many study committees say otherwise. As I previously argued, I believe that the “Side B” status is untenable as we interpret the Scriptures, but just as clearly, where his identity is made public, it disqualifies a man from being an officer in the church. A member who needs help? Yes! But an officer? No!
These are important texts that are often overlooked or passed over without asking legitimate questions. In conclusion, let me mention one other large problem that exists in the PCA. It revolves around the issue of polity. Teaching elders are members of presbyteries, and not local churches. My wife and I are members of different ecclesiastical bodies. Presbyteries can insulate their members from complaints and charges from other presbyteries. It’s part of our local autonomy, grass-roots heritage. In the PCA, it is very difficult to contest the ordination of a man in another Presbytery. Contesting the legitimacy of a man’s ordination credentials must come from within his own Presbytery, and it has not happened from within Missouri Presbytery.
Regardless of the Report of the Ad Interim Committee on Sexuality, it will have no teeth to it. It will be like a shepherd without a rod or a staff. It will not be able to provide an avenue to deal with homosexual elders within another presbytery of the PCA. I fear that in this whole controversy the damage has already been done, and apart from a sovereign and unique act of God, I am afraid that there is little hope for a reversal.
Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.