Over the past few years, several influential Christian leaders (including Tony Campolo and Rob Bell) have made statements about how they no longer believe that homosexual practice is sinful. And given that a very large percentage of evangelical Christians would disagree with them, their comments have caused a huge amount of controversy.
One of the reasons that there’s been such a huge backlash is due to the widely held belief that homosexuality is a ‘salvation issue’. And by ‘salvation issue’ I mean, ‘what one believes about the sinfulness of homosexuality can be used to determine whether or not someone is truly a Christian’.
Although I certainly don’t claim to know the mind of God, here are 4 questions which might be helpful to ask when considering…
IS WHAT WE BELIEVE ABOUT THE SINFULNESS OF HOMOSEXUALITY A SALVATION ISSUE?
(Note: This is not about whether or not homosexuality is sinful, or whether or not all homosexuals go to hell. I believe that homosexuality is sinful, and that Jesus died for all sinners (including homosexuals). Anyone who trusts in Jesus to save them will be saved. I’ve written about this here).
#1 IS EVERY ISSUE IS A SALVATION ISSUE?
Evangelicals believe that the entire Bible is God’s word. However does a person have to believe that the entire Bible is God’s word in order to become a Christian? Consider the following…
A) The Early Christians did not believe the entire Bible was God’s word because the entire Bible hadn’t been written yet.
Andy Stanley makes the point that “there was no Bible as we know it for the first three hundred years of Christianity. People were becoming followers of Christ before the Gospels were even written” (Deep & Wide, p 246).
B) We are saved by our faith in Jesus, not the Bible.
The Apostle Paul wrote: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved” (Romans 10:9).
Andy Stanley explains: “The Bible is not the foundation of our faith. The foundation of our faith is an event. It’s the resurrection. It’s not the Old Testament. It’s not the New Testament… The foundation of our faith is an event that got documented in a book… If you find something in the Old Testament or the New Testament that you don’t like and you don’t agree with and you can’t make it line up, that is no reason to leave the Christian faith, because the foundation of our faith is what happened… Jesus rose from the dead.”
ONE WAY TO THINK ABOUT THIS IS TO CONSIDER A NUMBER OF CONCENTRIC CIRCLES…
The inner circle contains those doctrines which a person must absolutely believe in order to be a Christian. These would include:
> The deity of Jesus
> Jesus dying on the cross to pay for our sin
> The resurrection
> That we are sinners who are saved by grace alone through faith in Jesus alone
The second circle contains those doctrines which a person may not have to believe to actually be a Christian, but they are so significant that if we mess with them there would be serious implications. Some examples might include:
> The Second Coming
> Whether or not Satan is a real person
> Is there a literal Hell?
> The Authority of the Bible
The third circle contains those doctrines which typically divide denominations. These might include:
> Speaking in Tongues
> Church Leadership Structures
The fourth circle contains those doctrines which Christians might discuss, and perhaps even hold an opinion on, but even within different Christian denominations there are varying beliefs. These might include:
> Hymns vs Modern Music
> Can Prayer ever change God’s mind?
> The Church’s role in Politics
> Which Bible Translation should we use?
Do we have any evidence to suggest that homosexuality is a 1st Circle Issue (a salvation issue)?
Do we believe that what a person believes about the sinfulness of homosexuality is more important than what they believe about Baptism, or the Second Coming, or the Authority of Scripture?
#2 WHY IS THE SINFULNESS OF HOMOSEXUALITY NOT MENTIONED IN THE GOSPELS OR THE EVANGELISTIC SERMONS IN ACTS?
(A) The Gospels
Given that the Gospels were written so that people might come to place their trust in Jesus as their saviour, is it reasonable to assume that if homosexuality is a salvation issue, the Gospel writers would have clearly spelled out how sinful it is?
Now certainly Matthew 19:3-9 and Mark 10:6-9 record Jesus explaining that marriage is between one man and one woman, however neither of these passages state explicitly that homosexuality is sinful. And even if they did, this still doesn’t account for the fact that Luke and John are silent on the issue. If this is a salvation issue then why did both Luke and John (who had different audiences to Matthew and Mark) not include it?
(B) Evangelistic Sermons in Acts
One way to determine whether or not something is essential for salvation is to look at the Evangelistic Sermons in Acts. Why would both Paul and Peter leave homosexuality out of their gospel presentations if it was a gospel issue?
Added to this, if we were to look at any evangelistic presentation today, very few of them would include a specific reference to the sinfulness of homosexuality. Certainly sin would be mentioned. The need to change our mind about our sin (repentance) and trust in Jesus to save us from both the consequences of sin and the power of sin (faith) would be preached. But would a preacher feel that they have to specifically mention the sinfulness of homosexuality in order to preach the gospel?
#3 WHY IS IT OK TO ADD TO THE BIBLE BUT NOT SUBTRACT FROM THE BIBLE?
For years Church Leaders have been adding to the Bible by making up sins which simply aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is the issue of Drinking Alcohol.
Now I realize that some matters are disputable. But whether or not Drinking Alcohol is sinful is not a disputable matter:
> Jesus turned water into wine.
> Jesus commanded us to drink alcohol as part of our worship (i.e. Communion. And we know for sure that it was alcoholic because some sinned by getting drunk on the communion wine).
> Paul told Timothy to have a little wine because it would be good for his stomach.
What’s perhaps most disturbing about all of this is that instead of confronting church leaders about ‘Adding to the Bible’, many of us have looked up to them and considered them to be holy and more pure because of their strict stance on Alcohol.
So here’s the question:
Why is it ok for Church Leaders to add to the Bible, but not subtract from the Bible? Why is it that if they claim that Drinking Alcohol is sinful we look up to them, but if they claim that Homosexual Practice is not sinful we call them a heretic?
I’m not in anyway suggesting that it’s ok to subtract from the Bible. Rather I’m simply asking why we treat ‘Subtracting Homosexuality as a Sin’ as a salvation issue, while we treat ‘Adding Alcohol as a Sin’ as something less.
#4 DO OUR BLIND SPOTS DISQUALIFY US AS CHRISTIANS?
All of us have blind spots. If we were to put any of our lives under the microscope, we would discover that there are many attitudes and actions that we have failed to acknowledge as sinful, even though the Bible clearly describes them as sinful.
Take racism for example. For years the church not only neglected to do anything about racism, it openly promoted it. Grant Wacker, who wrote a biography on Billy Graham, explained how the sin of racism was a blind spot for many Christians during Graham’s early ministry…
“He followed (early 20th century evangelist) Billy Sunday’s pattern of racially segregating the crowds he preached to. Occasionally, he preached to black-only or white-only. More often, they separated the audience. Sometimes they self-segregated, sometimes there were ropes. By the early ’50s, his conscience was gnawing on him and he came to believe that this (segregated) pattern was un-Scriptural and it was simply wrong. And by 1952, he had come to the place where he chastised his own Southern Baptist Convention for their unwillingness to admit African-Americans to their seminaries. The following year, probably in Chattanooga, Tenn., he pulled ropes down that separated black and white people in the audience. That was not permanent. Several months later, at the next crusade in Dallas, the ropes went back up. But by the following year, 1954, the ropes came down and they never went up again. So what’s significant about this is that he grew. It took him time to change. There was not an epiphany about it. Rather, he grew into a deeper understanding of what the Gospel called for.”
Now are we to assume that Billy Graham wasn’t a Christian until he came to acknowledge that racism is sinful? Or instead would we say that Billy Graham was a Christian the whole time, but only later in his Christian life did God reveal to him his blind spot?
The same can be said about many of us today.
I personally failed to acknowledge the sinfulness of neglecting to take care of the environment until the recent debates about Climate Change made me go back to the Bible and reassess the issue. During my first few years of being a Christian, it never occurred to me that all my money belonged to God, and that He wanted me to give generously and joyfully in response to His generosity to me.
Now do these Bind Spots mean I only just became a Christian in recent years? And what about other Blind Spots that I’m yet to discover? Does the fact that there are sinful attitudes and actions that I have yet to acknowledge as being sinful disqualify me from the Christian faith?
My question would be this: Why is it ok for us to have Blind Spots on almost everything else, but if someone fails to acknowledge the sinfulness of homosexuality then they aren’t a Christian?