© wjarek – Fotolia.com
or Why the crafty serpent is winning the argument again
Two of the most hotly contested topics in the church today are homosexuality, and the role of men and women in the church. The two issues have two things in common. Firstly, they arguably cause more disagreement and controversy than any other topic within Evangelical and wider Protestant circles. Secondly, on both of these issues, pastors, lay people and theologians are essentially reinterpreting what scripture says. It’s the second of these two that I will focus on here.
My focus is how Christians are reinterpreting scripture, though homosexuality and gender roles will be used as illustrations of how it is occurring. Readers may disagree with me on those issues, but that merely serves as an illustration of the controversy surrounding them. In attempting to make sense of the biblical texts which speak of these issues, you hear people say things like, “Oh, but that text is for that particular church at that particular time.” Scholars are translating the original Greek in entirely new ways, showing that Paul didn’t really mean that homosexual practice is sinful when he wrote Romans (see Rom. 1:26-29, for example). Paul also couldn’t have meant that women are not to teach the bible when he wrote to Timothy (see 1 Timothy 2:6-14). Even if he did, they might say, it doesn’t apply to us today. In other words, people are starting to say that Paul didn’t really mean what we’ve always thought.It is important to point out, though, that these two hotly contested topics weren’t really hot or contested in the church until about 50 years ago. In fact, the raising of these issues to such controversial levels within the church correlates nicely with the sexual and feminist revolutions, and the broader acceptance of homosexual practice in the West.
These controversies have been brought on by cultural shifts in Western society. I don’t believe for a second that God is saying anything new about these issues – his Word will remain long after the collapse of our civilization. His decrees are the same today, as they were in Billy Graham’s heyday, as they were in John Knox’s day, as they were when Saul became Paul. If something is stated as a universal truth by God through his appointed apostles and prophets, then it stays universal and true. It doesn’t matter what we think about it. Our opinions do not matter, and do not alter God’s truth.
So, why is it that large parts of the church accept women elders, preachers and senior pastors? Why are entire denominations softening their stance (to put it lightly) on homosexuality? Why is it that scholars and pastors are only now beginning to understand certain passages of scripture in a way which no other generation of church leaders and scholars have ever done before? The reason is simple, and the answer is the same for each question: because we have stopped listening to God, and started listening to our culture. We have begun to listen to the crafty serpent again, who in Genesis 3:1 asked Eve one of the most rebellious questions of all time: “Did God actually say that?”
People don’t suddenly begin to understand what scripture teaches on these issues in an entirely new way, and by chance it matches up with the broader trend and direction of the culture around us. The leader of the Australian Greens and your local pastor see eye-to-eye on homosexuality, not because they’re both carefully reading Leviticus, but because they’re both listening to our sinful culture. As Christians, we need to carefully choose what will be the authority in our lives – the eternal Word of God, or the broken world around us.