Some issues in the Christian life matter more than others. The apostle Paul made a distinction between matters that were primary to the gospel, and issues that were not. In 1 Corinthians 15:3, he writes, “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance.”
This is not to say that other issues are of no importance, just that they are not of first importance. In Romans 14:1, he instructs his readers not to pass judgment on “disputable matters.” On such issues, Christians need to know their own mind and receive in fellowship those who differ. We might consider as examples of present day “disputable matters” issues like infant baptism or our understanding of the millennium. On such matters, Christians are free to differ. But on matters of first importance, we must remain in agreement if we are to be faithful to the gospel.
Here are five reasons why we must regard the issue of homosexuality as being of first importance.
1. The Witness of the Church
For virtually all of church history, the people of God have held that homosexual behavior is sinful. This is still the case for the vast majority of Christians around the world today. Those in the church who demand that we affirm homosexual behavior are proposing something that virtually every member of the universal church would shudder at. And the one place where this is being pushed is in the Western church at the precise moment our culture is making this a defining issue. This should give us enormous pause.
2. The Authority of Scripture
What you have to do with the Bible to make it supportive of gay relationships is profoundly un-evangelical, un-Anglican and un-Christian. There are six passages that directly mention homosexual behavior, and all of them do so negatively. For those of us with same-sex attraction, these are not easy passages, but they are clear in what they say and are good words to live by.
The only way to make such passages supportive of gay relationships is by employing the most tortuous methods of interpretation, such as ignoring the contexts such verses come in, determining the meaning of key words and terms not by how the biblical author uses them but by how late secular culture uses them.
3. The Purpose of Marriage
One of the purposes of the union of a man and woman in marriage is to display the mystery of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:32). Marriage is the visual aid of how our Savior relates to His people. If we construe marriage as being between a man and a man or a woman and a woman, then this picture is radically distorted. When we alter the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, we radically alter the gospel such marriage is meant to visualize. The Bible’s teaching on marriage alone is enough to settle the issue of homosexuality. Even if the six passages directly mentioning homosexuality were not in the Bible, we would still be clear that homosexual practice is ungodly. We believe what we believe about homosexuality because we believe what we believe about marriage.
4. The Fate of Homosexual People
Paul is very clear that the “unrighteous” will not enter the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Among the very different examples of unrighteous behavior he lists is homosexual practice. Those who do not repent of such behavior will not enter heaven. Eternity is at stake. To say the issue does not matter is to say that the eternal destiny of people does not matter. This is not the case with secondary issues like infant baptism or the role of women in the church.
5. The Censure of Christ
In Revelation 2, Jesus rebukes the church in Thyatira for tolerating someone whose teaching leads people into sexual sin (Rev. 2:20). We do not know if this is a lone voice or one of many (most likely “Jezebel” is not the teacher’s name). What is most significant is how Jesus responds to this situation: He is not just against those who are doing the teaching; He is against those who tolerate such teaching in their midst. Not all tolerance is godly, and it is Christ-like to be intolerant of certain things.
Not taking a side on this issue means to take a side. To decide it is a matter of indifference is to risk having Jesus against you. Read the description of Christ in Revelation 1 and consider if you would ever want to risk that Jesus being against you.
This is a gospel issue. When so-called evangelical leaders argue for affirmation of gay relationships in the church, I’m not saying they’re not my kind of evangelical, I’m saying they are no kind of evangelical. This is not an easy position to hold, for I have friends who hold to different views on this subject. But it is the right position to hold. For the five reasons given above, we must never allow ourselves to think of this as just another issue Christians are free to differ over.
Sam Allberry is a pastor at St. Mary's Anglican Church in Maidenhead, UK. He is the author of Is God Anti-Gay? as well as books on the resurrection and the Trinity. He will be teaching at The Village on the weekend of April 11 and 12 and speaking at the Is God Anti-Gay? forum on April 15.