Monday, August 24, 2020

Biblical Reflections On The Whole Life Ethic


By Pastor Mark Christopher

More and more I am encountering those who are claiming to hold to what is called a “whole life ethic” or a “consistent ethic of life”. Those in the social justice camp are especially predisposed to this argument which seeks to dismiss the horrors of abortion i.e., feticide, by claiming to oppose all intentional taking of human life to include abortion, capital punishment, and war. Thus, they lump all life-and-death related issues together under one banner.

This is not new. Many years ago, liberal theologians and ethicists, like Jim Wallis of Sojourners and David Gushee, were promoting this brand of “pro-life” ethics. The emergent church gravitated towards this ethic. And now those with social justice proclivities have revived this seemingly pro-life response. Again, there is nothing new under the sun.

It may sound good to the uninitiated, so what is wrong with the “whole life ethic” thinking? Here are but a few considerations for those who use the label, but have not thought the matter through biblically and logically:

1. The whole life ethic errantly assumes that all life-related issues are morally equivalent and given the same outcome in Scripture. In so doing, they confuse issues like abortion and capital punishment placing them together as though the Bible treats them both the same.

2. The whole life ethic is vague and uses hasty generalizations to explain life-related issues. This results in confusing categories into the one-size-fits-all approach to being “pro-life”.

3. Rather than adopting the vague notions of the whole life ethic, Christians should adopt what Wayne Grudem calls the “whole Bible ethic” approach. The whole Bible ethic approach seeks the specific biblical position on each topic i.e., abortion, war, and capital punishment. This avoids the one-size-fits-all approach of the whole life ethic and serves as a barrier to confusing issues and categories.

4. Rather than trying to protect human life in every case, the Bible seeks to protect the innocent and then punish the guilty in direct proportion to their crime/sin. Ezekiel 13:19 demonstrates this well: “For handfuls of barley and fragments of bread, you have profaned Me to My people to put to death some who should not die and to keep others alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies.” In like manner, the divinely appointed purpose for government testifies of this same truth: “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:-3-4). In light of the biblical ethic, the emphasis is on protecting innocent life versus punishing those who are evil doers.

5. Finally, the whole life ethic, while sounding good, is simply a sophisticated way to distill and dismiss the implications of the abortion issue. For some it serves as a salve for their consciences so they can vote for merchants of death and the promoters of feticide under the guise of “comprehensive justice” (another vague and obtuse term). With all the pious talk about “justice” at present, the whole life ethic enables one to push an issue like feticide to the periphery and so diminish its importance by lumping it with a host of other life-related categories. All of which Scripture treats differently.

So the next time you hear some professing evangelical caution you against being a “one issue” voter this election season, with reference to abortion, it may be they have been influenced in some measure by the revival of the “whole life ethic”. And while it may sound convincing, it is simply a one-size-fits-all approach that diminishes the importance of the murder of the innocent at the expense of confusing it with other life-related issues. In the end, the Bible does not treat all life issues the same, and neither should we. For God places a premium on the life of the innocent. Perhaps the Christian vote come November 3, 2020 should reflect this same sacredness of innocent life!  


Tuesday, June 23, 2020

An “Evangelical” Promotion of Same-Sex Marriage: A Case Undemonstrated

By Pastor Mark Christopher

A friend of mine recently sent me a blog article biblically endorsing same-sex relationships by Graeme Codrington and asked me to comment on it. The article in question is a summary article of a multipart treatment Codrington did on the topic. Rather than addressing every major assertion made in the article, I will limit my evaluation to one of Codrington’s primary assumptions. Codrington’s towering presuppositions is first stated about halfway through the article after he summarizes key Old Testament passages related to homosexuality. He concludes, “These are the lessons we learn from the Old Testament. They still apply today. But they do not apply to loving, same-sex couples who wish to have sex within the bounds of a lifelong, committed, covenantal relationship.” Then, after commenting on 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-10, he reiterates, “Neither of these passages has anything to do with lifelong, monogamous same sex relationships.” 

It is apparent from his statements that Codrington relies on part of the creation ordinance for marriage and sexuality while dispensing with a key element of God’s divine design for the same — namely, gender distinction. This is a common view by those trying to biblically promote same-sex marriage. The question is, how can one so easily accept some aspects of God’s creational blueprint for marriage and sexuality while conveniently eliminating the aspect(s) that contradicts the thesis, without explicit biblical proof? 

Here are a few observations from the creation context of Genesis 1-2 that ultimately undermine the thesis that life-long same-sex unions are biblically acceptable as long as they are monogamous and covenantally committed relationships in keeping with Genesis 1:27-28 and 2:23-24:
  • The creation account offers a precedent setting paradigm for the divine prerequisites of gender distinction, marriage, and human sexuality. And while the creation narrative is descriptive, not prescriptive, it is nevertheless precedent setting with assumed authority throughout the remainder of the Bible to include creation references to gender distinction, monogamy, and lifelong commitment by Jesus and Paul (Matt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:2-12; 1 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:22-32).
  • From the “is” of creation (Gen. 1-2) come the “oughts” for marriage, gender distinction, and sexuality (Exo. 20:14; Lev. 18:6-23; 20:9-21; Matt. 19:4-6; Mk. 7:21-22; 10:2-12; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:8-10). A strong case can be made for the creation account serving as the touchstone for the 10 Commandments, which includes the 7th Commandment serving as a category marker for all sexual deviations that depart from the creation ordinance.
  • In Genesis 1:27-28, explicit boundaries are established from the beginning as the creation ordinance clearly differentiates between the “male and female”. This is in keeping with the rest of creation order and design. It is here that sexual boundaries are confirmed and evidenced in the first heterosexual couple who celebrated both their dissimilarity and similarity as “one flesh” by becoming part of each other through the symbolic picture of sexual intercourse (Gen. 2:23-24). This is something the uniformity of same-sex relations, of whatever sort, are never able to duplicate, because they lack the necessary dissimilarity required.  
  • Thus, the fulfillment of Adam required a woman for a compliment. This is by divine design not by individual choice, or evolutionary happenstance. The Bible is unambiguous on this point.
  • Scripture, overall, consistently upholds and reaffirms the creation ordinance of monogamy, gender distinction, and a lifelong covenantal commitment. In stark contrast to this, homosexuality insists that one gender by itself is an accurate representation of God’s divine plan. Yet, there is not one direct or explicit or implicit statement to substantiate the claim. It is an argument predicated on complete silence and advanced by philosophical sleight of hand.  
  • Gender distinction was a unique characteristic of ancient Israel. Whereas gender blurring was a trait of many ancient Near Eastern societies (Cf. Deut. 22:5): a trait which is now enjoying popular resurgence.  
In light of the clear teaching and emphasis throughout Scripture on God’s blueprint for marriage and sexuality, it is interesting that some evangelical promoters of same-sex marriage insist on monogamy and a life-long covenantal commitment, yet, they so easily disregard the clear teaching on the necessity for gender distinction with no biblical warrant. With this as a major assumption, Codrington then seeks to limit all the contexts that reference same-sex distortion by relegating these variously related textual contexts to nothing more than limited prohibitions against same-sex activity in the worship precinct of ancient Israel and the early church. Yet, the unrelenting testimony of Scripture maintains the necessity of gender distinction from creation to consummation regardless of the context. This one truth alone undermines the entirety of his argument. 

In the end, any worldview that falsifies God’s created order, like negating gender distinction, is then prone to falsifying and distorting God’s created order (Rom. 1:18-32) culminating in the normalizing of sexual distortion (Rom. 1:24, 26-27) in every sphere, not just the religious realm. The only way to support such a thesis then requires one ignore the obvious and argue the ridiculous (Rom. 1:28).  

In summary, as Old Testament scholar Sidney Greidanus concludes, there is, “a universal transcendent standard for human sexuality which is an extension of creation itself: There is a norm for sexual morality that finds its origin in creation … it is a norm based on God-given nature of which all people ought to live by gender distinction and monogamy.” It is only by ignoring this truth, or part of this truth, that pro-gay interpreters, like Codrington, can promote what Scripture never condones. If Codrington is right, and gender distinction in marriage is no longer a requirement, then who is to say that marriage must be covenantally committed and or limited to only two people? Such is the terminus his faulty assumption.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Homosexuality, The Dutch Reformed Church, and Religious Liberty

By Pastor Mark Christopher

(The following was written for the congregation of Everglen Baptist Church to inform them about the recent court ruling regarding the Dutch Reformed Church's vacillations on homosexuality and same-sex marriage and the consequence of imperiled religious liberty for all Christians.)

In October 2015, as I prepared to write the conclusion for a dissertation on homosexuality and biblical interpretation, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) General Synod made a landmark ruling regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Essentially, the DRC agreed that individual ministers (dominees) could now solemnize same-sex marriages based on conscience. Beyond this, the General Synod concluded that non-celibate gays and lesbians could now be ordained as dominees. Given its pertinence, this ruling served as the backdrop for my eight-page conclusion, as it perfectly illustrated all that I had argued for the prior 230 pages.

But in 2016, due to extreme backlash from the DRC membership, the DRC reversed its 2015 ruling regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Unhappy with this reversal, the small, but very vocal, LGBT minority in the DRC took the DRC to court. This set up the recent ruling (March 8, 2019) in the North Gauteng High Court, which favored the DRC LGBT contingent.

The High Court ruled on two fronts: First, the court ruled that the DRC’s 2016 reversal of the 2015 General Synod decision failed to follow the church’s own rules of procedure and is, therefore, invalid. If the High Court’s ruling had only addressed the DRC’s procedural irregularities, there would be no cause for concern from outside the DRC. Secondly, and more importantly, the court ruled that the DRC is guilty of discriminating against homosexuals based on sexual orientation and has, therefore, violated section 9(3) of the Constitution. With this new judicial precedent, the rest of Christendom in South Africa is now in jeopardy of losing precious religious liberties, with sexual orientation now trumping the right to religious freedom. In Orwellian fashion, all rights are equal, but some rights are now more equal than others.

Given that my legal expertise on this very concerning matter is vastly limited, I would like to make a few random biblical and personal observations that will hopefully help some to think through this new development more clearly while giving us all something to seriously pray about: 

1. It was a fool’s errand for the DRC to think they could ever appease both sides of the homosexual issue. This is a very black and white biblical issue with no ambiguity. There is no third-way position one can take. It is an either-or issue, not both-and. As a wise man once said, “If you try to walk down both sides of the street and the same time, you will get hit from both sides.” Once the LGBT camel gets its head in the ecclesiastical tent, the occupants had better be looking for the nearest emergency exit. The DRC has learned the hard way that the LGBT camel now owns their tent. 

2. The DRC’s LGBT demise was a long time in the making. They did not arrive at their current trajectory overnight. On the contrary, their accommodation of all thing’s LGBT began the day their seminaries, like Tukkies and Stellenbosch, abandoned biblical authority and scriptural sufficiency. All of which promoted a more subjective and culturally driven method of biblical interpretation. In short, the DRC has long since exchanged the creed of the Reformation Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) for the worldly creed of Sola cultura. Hence, for the DRC, culture is now supreme, not God’s word. As Jeremiah warned, “… he who has my word, let him speak it faithfully …” (Jer. 23:28). Churches and denominations that sellout to the LGBT agenda first abandon biblical authority and scriptural sufficiency long before they arrive at the LGBT destination. The DRC is no exception.

3. The word of God is unambiguous on the matter of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. It is God, in His word, who defines gender, marriage, and human sexuality, not man or man-made institutions. It is simply man’s duty to recognize what is, not arbitrarily redefine and revise what God ordained. God’s creation ordinance details three non-negotiables required for marriage and human sexuality: gender distinction, the numerical requirement of only two people, and life-long monogamy wrapped in a covenantal commitment between God and the two marriage partners. God has never amended or appended this divine recipe, even in light of the fall (Gen. 1;27; 2:23-24; Matt. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 6:18; Eph. 5:22-32). Any deviation or distortion of God’s boundaries whether it be fornication, adultery, incest, bestiality, or homosexuality is a sin that needs to be repented of (Lev. 18:6-30; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; Heb. 13:4). 

4. The assumption of “sexual orientation” figured prominently in the High Court’s decision. Sexual orientation has become a catchphrase that is commonly used but seldom defined. Sexual orientation is as philosophical as it is subjective in its meaning, because it is rooted in fallen human emotions, passions, and desires, not empirical science. For an expanded treatment of this aspect of the LGBT debate please go the Everglen Baptist's website (Here) and look under seminars for my seven-part series on homosexuality and the church, which has two sessions on the slippery definition of “sexual orientation” and its relation to the biblical category of lust.  

5. The Bible, not secular society, serves as the determiner of who qualifies for church leadership (1 Tim. 3:1-7; Tit. 1:5-11). Church leadership is a privilege, not a human right. As such, it is a divine privilege that can be easily forfeited through any number of disqualifying sins and unbiblical attitudes, of which homosexuality is only one. 

6. Any church or denomination that embraces the LGBT platform, as the DRC has, is apostate and not worthy of the name church. Why? Because as stated in the first observation, long before a church or denomination arrives at the LGBT destination, they first had to abandon biblical authority and scriptural sufficiency while adopting a new hermeneutic (method of interpretation). This results in a truncated gospel, redefined gender, a distortion of marriage, and perverted sexuality that unintentionally promotes the sexual revolution. In this, the DRC has unwittingly exchanged a theology of sex for sexualized theology. The centrality of Christ is thus eclipsed by man-centered concerns instead of a Christ-centered emphasis. 

In accordance with the above, all true believers still in the DRC need to put 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 into practice by separating from this apostate denomination (as difficult as this may be) and find a biblical church that boldly and unashamedly preaches the whole council of God’s word without compromise or apology. Or, they should breakaway and start a biblical branch of the DRC. They should also know that the LGBT train does not find its terminus at homosexuality, for it keeps moving onto the next deviancy — transgenderism and all points beyond. 

7. Finally, in all of this we must remember that homosexuals are not the enemy, they are the mission field! Their biggest problem is not their homosexuality, but that they are headed for a Christ-less eternity (1 Cor. 6:9-11). Therefore, we are called upon reach out to them with the unadulterated gospel in an equal measure of truth and grace like our Lord (John 1:14). In so doing, we are to inform them that Jesus is a much better Savior than they are a sinner!

In conclusion, we must not kid ourselves into thinking the High Court’s ruling is innocuous. Quite the contrary, the militants within the LGBT are now emboldened and will seek to test this new judicial precedent on other churches and denominations. So, we must pray that this ruling will be appealed and eventually overturned while asking God to prepare us for intensified persecution. As well, we need to pray that God might use us to reach those who are enslaved to homosexuality with the sin-liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. If someone struggling with the sin of homosexuality should walk through the doors of Everglen Baptist, let us see it as an opportunity to advance gospel truth and gospel behavior like our Lord before us, who came seek and save that which is lost! 

Note: As a postscript, it was announced yesterday that the DRC will not appeal the High Court's decision. This, though, does not prevent outside parties of interest from seeking an appeal. Let us pray that an appeal is filed!