December 11, 2017

An Urgent Matter

Jonathan Threlfall

The following is a condensed version of the article that appeared in our September/October 2013 edition of FrontLine. We are publishing it here by popular request. To receive this issue which includes other critically important articles, subscribe today while supply still lasts.  Click here to subscribe to FrontLine magazine.

Before Wednesday, June 26, 2013, Bible-believing Christians were aware of the importance of knowing and articulating their convictions about same-sex marriage. But after June 26, when the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act and sent Proposition 8 into “legal limbo,” (Joe Carter, “Nine Things You Should Know About the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases.” Accessed June 26, 2013.) that awareness has grown from important to urgent. When we trace the trajectory of these decisions, we see an America in which opponents of same-sex marriage are a curious and despised minority. The dots are in place. Only the line remains to be drawn.

But the gravest danger we face is not that we will be culturally marginalized or legally punished for opposing same-sex marriage. Our gravest danger is that we either discard our beliefs in response to this pressure or swap our mission of proclaiming the gospel for a mission of social change through politics. To avoid either extreme we must remind ourselves of Scripture’s clear teaching on marriage and sexuality and place it within the broader framework of God’s redemptive plan. In other words, Bible-believing Christians must be able to answer two questions: (1) What does the Bible say about same-sex marriage? And, (2) how does it relate to the gospel?

What Does the Bible Say About Same-Sex Marriage?

Scripture’s answer to the first question is straightforward, and it is helpful to see it in two parts, one positive, the other negative. Positively, God designed marriage to be a permanent union between one man and one woman: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen. 2:24, also cited in Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7; 1 Cor. 6:16, and Eph. 5:31). Since Scripture defines marriage as a union between two members of the opposite sex, the question of same-sex marriage is actually oxymoronic. We accept the term “same-sex marriage” so that we can intelligibly discuss the issue. But from a Scriptural standpoint, same-sex marriage is a contradiction of terms. There is no such thing.

The second part of Scripture’s answer to this question is negative: sexual intimacy outside male-female marriage is forbidden. The actions of fornication, adultery, and homosexuality are all aberrations of what God intended for sex, but Scripture reserves the severest condemnation for the action of homosexuality, since it not only violates God’s design for marriage but also exhibits a fundamental confusion of the sexes. Two passages in the Pentateuch explicitly forbid homosexual intercourse, and one passage refers to it using the name of the infamous city of Sodom (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Deut. 23:17). The most notable passage in the New Testament dealing with homosexuality is Romans 1:26, 27. Here Paul presents homosexuality as the moral cul-de-sac of a route that began with people willfully suppressing knowledge about God. Using descriptors such as “vile affections,” “against nature,” and “working that which is unseemly,” Paul paints a picture of a practice of life that is utterly immoral and self-destructive (“receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet”). Contrary to what some people claim, these passages cannot be restricted to prohibiting only homosexual abuse or homosexual prostitution.

What about People Who Say They Believe the Bible but Accept Homosexuality and Same-Sex Marriage?

Given Scripture’s clarity on this issue, it seems that Christians would be united on whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong. But many who claim Scripture as their authority also affirm homosexuality and same-sex marriage. One such person is Rob Bell, author of Love Wins, who in March of 2013 publicly came out in support of same-sex marriage: “Some people are gay and want to share their life with someone, and they should be able to. And that’s how the world is, and we should affirm that and we should affirm monogamy, fidelity and commitment, both gay and straight.”[1] What disturbs me most is not that Rob Bell publicly affirms same-sex marriage but that many Christians I know find his thinking to be compelling—Christians who were nurtured in Bible-believing homes and schools. They might not have arrived at Bell’s conclusions (although many have), but they have bought into the thinking that got him there.

So in order to effectively evaluate the issue of same-sex marriage, we must do more than remind ourselves that God intends marriage to be between a man and woman exclusively. We must also point out the errors that compel even professing Christians to prefer support for same-sex marriage over support for the clear teaching of the Bible. As I carefully listen to these people (especially Rob Bell) defend their support of same-sex marriage, I detect four major strands of thought that bind them to their support of same-sex marriage. First, they allow culture to dictate morality. “This is where our culture is, and God is in it,” they say. After all, Christians dare not find themselves on the wrong side of history. Second, they adopt a pragmatic approach to promoting the Christian faith. “Opposing homosexuality isn’t working. It repels, rather than attracts people to Christ,” they say. Third, they define sin as harm to individuals. They ask, “How is anyone being harmed by two men living together in a loving, monogamous relationship?” Fourth, they see homosexuality as an inborn trait rather than a chosen action or lifestyle. They say, “God made them gay. Who are we to tell them they can’t marry whom they love?”

Authority and Sin

To Christians who are confused or convinced by these errors, we must faithfully affirm the Scriptural truths about authority and sin. First, with regard to authority, we must constantly affirm the supremacy of God’s Word over culture. We do not evaluate the Word of God by our culture. Rather, we evaluate our culture by the Word of God. Neither may we reinvent God to keep Him up to date with our culture’s shifting moral values. When Scripture says that God is against something, we can be certain that He will never be “in” it (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8). Neither do we need to rescue God’s public image by changing His policies. If He is God, and if His Word is true, then He is perfectly capable of vindicating Himself (Rom. 3:4). Second, with regard to sin, we acknowledge that all sin ultimately causes harm. But we begin with the definition of sin as the transgression of God’s law, not merely what we perceive to be harm to ourselves or others.

Why Is This Issue So Important to Us?

We have discussed what Scripture says about same-sex marriage and explored the faulty thinking of those who claim the name of Christ and uphold homosexuality. Now we must answer the question, “Why is this important?” Isn’t it arbitrary for us (as some would claim) to raise arms about this issue when problems like poverty, sex trafficking, and human slavery should occupy our attention? Why the big deal about same-sex marriage?

There are three main answers to this question, and I present them from least important to most important. First, at no other point in history has the Biblical conception of marriage come under such attack. We are seeing a radical redefinition of marriage, the consequences of which we can’t even begin to surmise. Second, with the issue of same-sex marriage, we are seeing just the tip of iceberg of a worldview that is aggressively rejecting God’s most fundamental categories.

Third, and most importantly, the issue of same-sex marriage is important to us because of the role that marriage occupies in God’s redemptive plan. God’s intention for marriage wasn’t arbitrary. In the words of Ray Ortlund, “Marriage is not merely a human institution, completely malleable in the hands of human custom. It is a divine creation, intended to project onto the screen of the human imagination the beauty of a Saviour who gives himself sacrificially for his bride and of his bride who yields herself gratefully back to him” (EDT, 654). Ephesians 5:23–32 opens the mystery of marriage to us, revealing that marriage is a “gospel tract” demonstrating Christ’s covenant love for his church. That marriage is the union of two members of the opposite sex has essential gospel implications, for only heterosexual marriage can portray the sort of relationship Christ has with His church. Only heterosexual marriage unites the two sexes, which both bear distinctive aspects of the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Only heterosexual marriage is capable of sexual reproduction, which, besides being essential to human flourishing, also resonates with an important theme throughout Scripture, that God’s redemptive blessing is accompanied with abundant offspring (Gen. 1:28; 17:2; 22:17; cf. Isa. 53:10, 11; Gal. 4:19). The big deal about same-sex marriage is that it contradicts the most tangible and universal picture of salvation God has offered us: the union of a man and woman in marriage.

While we Christians must reaffirm God’s purpose for marriage and sexuality, we must also take action—not political action, but personal action. The Supreme Court may dismantle marriage in the law books, but we have dismantled marriage by winking at divorce and failing to cultivate strong marriages of our own. Before we can expect our culture to feel the moral bankruptcy and frustration of sexuality that is outside God’s boundaries, we must show to them the joy and fulfillment of marriages that thrive within God’s boundaries.


Jonathan Threlfall serves as youth pastor at Bible Baptist Church in Matthews, North Carolina, with his wife, Christa, and their three children. He blogs about theology, ministry, and culture at jonathanthrelfall.com.

  1. http://www.christianpost.com/news/rob-bell-grows-frustrated-amid-questions-on-sinfulness-of-homosexuality-95209/ ,accessed 7/2/13 []


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