Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Egalitarianism, Homosexuality, and the Authority of Scripture: An Interesting Connection

I was pondering the issue of the intended roles of women in ministry the past few days and I began to see an interesting connection with the arguments of those who hold to what is known as the "egalitarian" position and those within the visible church (as compared to the invisible church which only God knows who belongs) who are part of the pro-homosexual lobby. A common element with both would be that they compromise the sole authority of Scripture (the Protestant principle of Sola Scriptura).

Egalitarianism and the Authority of Scripture
The "egalitarian" position basically argues that men and women are fully equal in all aspects such that the husband has not be placed in authority over his wife and that women can and should serve the major leadership positions in the church just as much as men. Such a view leads to the promotion of the licensing and ordination of women to serve as pastors in churches and other such high offices. The other perspective, and the one that a majority of theologians, pastors, and teachers have held throughout church history, as well as the perspective of this author based on his study of Scripture, has been labeled as "complentarianism." This perspective follows Scripture's teaching that God created men and women in His image both equal in status (Galatians 3:28) but with different roles that compliment each other in the home (1 Corinthians 11:2-16; Ephesians 5:22-33; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7) and in the church (1 Corinthians 14:34-35; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). A typical trait of "egalitarians" has been to elevate the Galatians 3:28 passage to the exclusion of the other passages here cited. When faced with the plain teaching of these other passages, they actually wind up appealing to another authority outside of Scripture. For instance, a common attempt to get around 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 that explicitly state that God has not ordained for women to serve the role of elder in the church has been to claim that the culture of the time these verses were written were different than our culture today and thus no longer apply. In 21st century America, women are viewed as doing pretty much anything that men do. Predominantly this is due to the feminist movement. (I long for the day where the high calling of women to serve as mothers would once again take precedence over the picture of the career woman. But I digress.) Women work in the same jobs and serve in the same roles as men. The argument follows then that these passages need to be read in light of today's culture instead of examining our culture in light of Scripture. It is as Matt Chandler puts it, "The culture begins to define the Scriptures instead of the Scriptures defining the culture" (The Explicit Gospel, 194). Hence, the authority appealed to for their position is not Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) but the culture. (For the record, the textual evidence of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15 do not support Paul's instruction concerning women not serving in a "teaching" or "authoritative" role over men in a congregational setting being a cultural issue limited to Ephesus or Corinth as "egalitarians" often claim. Right after making such a statement in 1 Timothy 2:12, Paul does not reference a problem occurring specifically at that local church that serves as the reason for such a prohibition but the design and order of God's creation itself. For Adam was formed first, then Eve (v. 13). In the Corinthian context, Paul states that this teaching concerning women learning in submission is As in all the churches of the saints v. 33b.)

However, culture is not the only authority that "egalitarians" appeal to in order to substantiate their claim for women to serve in the role of elder or pastor in a church. I don't know how many times I have had an egalitarian tell me something to the effect, "But they feel that they are "called" to be a pastor. You can't argue with God's Holy Spirit if He is calling them to such a ministry." The problem here is that they are the one actually arguing with the Holy Spirit who inspired the words of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-15! Their authority here is not Scripture alone but emotions. It is based on what someone "feels" or "senses". (I believe the Unibomber claimed that he "sensed" that God "called" him to blow up the Oklahoma City building and I have talked to people who claim that God "called" them to leave their wife for another woman.) Or proponents of such a view appeal to experience. They point out the gifts that a woman has for ministry and claim that you cannot tell them that God has not intended them to serve as a pastor due to the gifts He has given them. (In such a case, I would encourage a lady with such gifts to see how God may intend for her to use them in a role in which He has ordained for women to serve in the context of a church, such as working with the children's ministry or the youth or leading a women's Bible study or home group.) In each of these cases, the authority for the "egalitarian" is not Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) but culture, feelings, or experience. Interestingly enough, these are the same authorities that we notice the pro-homosexual group within the visible church appealing to as well.

Homosexuality and the Authority of Scripture
No one promoting the pro-homosexual agenda actually holds to Sola Scriptura. They can't because if they did, they would not promote such an agenda. God's perspective concerning homosexual acts and relationships has been laid out clearly in His Word. I actually have done an extensive study of the passages that relate to homosexuality in the Bible and the paper that I have written on it can be found here. We find though with the homosexual agenda that has crept into many churches today that they also appeal to culture, feelings, or experience instead of Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura). A study guide concerning Scripture passages that "supposedly" related to homosexuality was put together by a committee within my denomination about two years ago that individual churches were encouraged to go through. One of the actual passages that concerned the issue of homosexuality was Romans 1:18-32. (I found out that one of the conservatives on the committee did suggest the other six passages that deal with homosexuality but he was told they were "clobber passages" and therefore would not be included.) The brief commentary given to go with such a passage stated something to the effect that "Paul did not share the same understanding of sexual orientation as we do today." Again, we find culture serving as the authority and not Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura). Basically, they are saying that what God said through the pen of Paul to the church at Rome does not apply today because we live in a different, more enlightened culture that has figured things out better. (Figured more out than the Ultimate Author of that text?! Perish the thought that God was ignorant about what He inspired to be written about homosexuality or that we know better about it now than He always has when He had these words in Romans to be written! Yikes!)

We also can find "emotions" or "feelings" serving as this group's authority. One of the main arguments of the pro-homosexual agenda is that those who identify themselves as "gay" or "lesbian" "feel" as if they have been born this way. And thus, they reason, if they have been "born this way," then that must mean that God made them this way and it cannot be categorized as a sinful lifestyle regardless of what the Bible actually says. For them, "emotions" and "feelings" trump Scripture. The same can be seen with the authority of experience. I am losing count of how many times I have been told about some homosexual couples who have demonstrated a better loving relationship than many heterosexual couples (and of course comparing them to the Britney Spears', Kim Kardashian's, and Katy Perry's does not really say much as none of them would come close to resembling what the portrait of a biblical marriage should look like). Just like with the "egalitarian" position, we find the pro-homosexual agenda appealing to other authorities outside Scripture instead of Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura).

The Danger of Compromising the Sole Authority of Scripture
So what is my point in showing you such a comparison that I have noticed? I am NOT saying that those who hold to an "egalitarian" position necessarily will adopt the pro-homosexual view. Many thankfully will not. However, this has certainly been the case with the denominations who have, as of this point, accepted so-called same-sex unions and permitted practicing gays and lesbians to be licensed and ordained to serve as pastors in their churches. I do not know of a denomination which has made such a move that didn't first decide to license and ordain women to serve as pastors and elders. Compromising the authority of Scripture in one place inevitably opens the door to compromise it's authority in another place. And as you can see, the same types of extrabiblical authority used to open the door to the one is the same as that used to open the door to the other. In fact, I heard arguments at my denomination's Annual Conference just two weeks ago of how the acceptance of homosexuals being licensed and ordained was just like how women used to not be allowed to be licensed or ordained. The church just hasn't caught up to the culture yet again!

The only remedy to the homosexual issue in the denominations that are currently facing it (such as the beloved Church of the Brethren in which I serve) is to get back to Sola Scriptura; Scripture being our sole authority for everything in our lives. We need to stop flirting with culture, emotions/feelings, and experience. As a denomination, as congregations, and as individuals we either believe that the Word of God is sufficient as it claims (2 Timothy 3:17) or we don't. We either are obedient to God's Word or we are disobedient. Sola Scriptura served as one of the rally cries of the Reformers when they recognized that the unbiblical abuses within the Catholic Church of Rome arose from a departure from holding to Scripture as the sole authority. Such a reformation calling us back to the authority of the Word of God is needed in many denominations today. May God, in His grace, bring us once again back to His Word as our authority and thus to glorifying and honoring Him.

For the sake of God under the authority of His Word,
Lee Smith
Soli Deo Gloria!
Sola Scriptura!

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