This afternoon the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted yes to an authoritative interpretation of the constitution that allows teaching elders to marry same gender couples in those states where it is allowed. They also voted to change the wording in the Directory of Worship from man and woman to two persons so as to allow same gender marriage. The latter item will still have to go to the presbyteries for a vote.I will leave it to others to say that the authoritative interpretation is dishonest since it does not really interpret but redefines. It allows what is unbiblical, same gender sex, to stand alongside of marriage between a man and a woman. It puts our constitution in crisis. And others may write of how the change in the Directory of Worship does the same since the Confessions of the PC (U.S.A.) speak only of a man and woman united in marriage. And the Holy Scriptures call same gender sex sin while defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Although unbiblical and unfaithful to the Lord of the church, these two actions are not so unusual to church history. The early church experienced Gnostics who held that immoral sex was allowed because the body was unimportant. Some of the Ranters of the 17th century advocated free love. Although not official, the Catholic Church of the years leading up to the Reformation, was filled with both laity and clergy who lived immoral lives.
In the 1930s the Confessing Church martyr, Paul Schneider, was angered by the loose and official sexual immorality of the Nazi government. His speaking out about such sin was one of the reasons he was arrested and later beaten and poisoned. At the same time Dietrich Bonhoeffer, another pastor in the confessing church, confessed the sin of the church which did not stand against the flood of sexual immorality.
The Scripture is filled with admonitions against sexual immorality which afflicted the biblical church. The book of Jude gives warning, using Sodom and Gomorrah as examples stating that those who were pushing licentiousness so hard in the church “indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh.” In the book of Revelation, in the letter to the church of Thyatira, the church is warned about Jezebel, she calls herself a prophetess, and she leads Christians astray, causing them to commit sexual sin and idolatry.
And the Old Testament? We all should shudder as we read of the Israelites who were apostate. They held their unconfessed sin in bundles; everything intertwined. Greed, idolatry, oppression, child murder were all interlaced with their sexual immorality. God, often, after holding out his hands to them, pleading with them to repent, sent them into judgment and exile.
But there is mercy extended. There is grace and forgiveness. Jesus loves the sinner. He loves all of us in sin, but calls us out to his forgiveness. In the midst of immorality, Jude tells the church:
But you beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
And then there is God’s promise. He keeps us from stumbling, he doesn’t just allow us, he ‘makes’ us stand in the presence of his glory. We are there blameless and have great joy. Through all of this tragedy we will stand in the presence of Jesus and the fellowship of each other. And may we bring the broken hurting members of our denomination with us, out of their bondage to stand before his glory. To dwell in love in God’s kingdom.