Burning Issue : Gender in the light of Scripture
Paper delivered to the Runnymede Deanery Synod : Saturday 18th October 2003
I do not underestimate the gravity or timely relevance of this question given the historic gathering of 38 Primates from around the world this week. If in our Deanery, we are a microcosm of the wider Anglican Communion, then we will probably reflect its diversity as well as be sharing in its pain. And if our Primates have found it difficult to embrace the ever widening breadth of views and practices within our wider communion, then we are just as unlikely to find unanimity in the next couple of hours either.
I pray, however, that our brief examination of the Scriptures may both inform and shape our thinking on this burning issue of gender. Irrespective of your viewpoint, I trust that you will agree with me that our understanding of Scripture and its place in our thinking on this subject will be largely determined by our presuppositions. So let me give you four of my own.
1. I affirm Article 6 of the Church of England
“Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical Books of the Old Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
2. I affirm
the self-attestation that the Scriptures are God-breathed.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Anne Atkins gave a very helpful ‘Thought for the Day’ on BBC radio 4 recently. In it she made this observation: “Scripture is not important enlightenment about God, but infallible revelation from Him. So we interpret our lives in the light of scripture, instead of the other way about. Prizing scripture above reason is also rational. If God exists, He can surely speak. If He speaks, His words will endure. If they do, they won’t appeal to the values of a shifting society. Nor necessarily be amenable to my limited reason. Jesus described scripture as spoken by God. He submitted to it as authoritative in His life… while the moral law is reiterated by His apostles and still shapes our lives.”
3. I affirm the Perspicuity of Scripture
“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." (Luke 18:17).
On another occasion Jesus replied to his critics,
"Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” (Mark 12:24).
The Scriptures were written to reveal God’s will and their meaning is intended to be clear and self evident. There is only one correct interpretation of a passage and that is what the author meant by what they said. A theological education is not a prerequisite and indeed may often be a hindrance.
4. A Christian may be defined as someone who has received Jesus as their personal Lord and Saviour and demonstrates they are following him by submitting their lives to his teaching.
"Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)
"Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46)
“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him." (John 14:21)
It is a contradiction to call oneself a Christian’ therefore if one is not following the teachings of Jesus and his apostles.
With these four presuppositions in mind, I am simply going to read the key passages pertaining to gender and briefly comment on them. In most cases they require no explanation. I want to touch on four aspects of the gender issue: creation, marriage, singleness, and homosexuality.
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them… God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:26-27, 31)
Four principles can be drawn from these verses.
We are created in God’s image. This provides a solid basis for our uniqueness in relation to the animal world. Our self-worth is not based on possessions, achievements, physical attractiveness, or intellect. Instead it is based on our being created with meaning, purpose and dignity in God’s image.
Genesis 1:27 also affirms that men and women are equal in the sight of God, made by him, for him, and both together reflect the image of God. As stewards, we have joint responsibility for ruling over the created order.
Although men and women are equal, we are not the same. “Equality and identity are not to be confused” (John Stott). We compliment one another in the distinctive and characteristic qualities we associate with being male and female. These are psychological, physiological and sexual. J. Yoder puts it this way “equality of worth is not identity of role”. We are equal but different. The NT outlines various roles and responsibilities for men and women in both the home and church, and Christians have debated long and hard to what extent such roles are fixed creation ordinances and to what extent they may be flexible and culturally conditioned. (recommend John Stott).
Genesis 1:26 refers to our ontological wholeness being made in the likeness of God. Human beings are complete without being married (as of course was the perfect human being Jesus Christ). God saw all that he had made and declared it “very good”. Chapter 2 goes on to say that “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing.” (Genesis 2:2). We must recognize that scripture teaches a person is complete whether single or married, with or without children. The Bible has much to say to the single person, to the widow, the orphan and the eunuch. So uniqueness, equality, complimentarity and completeness flow from our being created in the image of God.
“The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him... For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”(Genesis 2:18-25)
Genesis 2 deals more thoroughly with the complementary roles of male and female as husband and wife. At least five conclusions can be drawn:
1. Marriage is ordained
by God as the union of a man & woman
Genesis 2 defines God’s pattern for human relationships:
“For this reason (because we are male and female) a man shall leave his father and mother (the family of his birth) and be united with his wife (thereby forming, together with his wife, a new family) and they will become one flesh (indissoluble) (Genesis 2:24).
2. Marriage is
intended to be a life-long union between a man & woman
Jesus stressed the permanence of marriage with these words, “Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate.” (Mark 10:9). The lifelong nature of marriage is conveyed by the well-known words of the marriage vows, “till death us do part.”
3. Marriage between a man and a woman creates a new family
When a man and woman are joined in marriage they form something that is greater than themselves - they form a new family with a unique identity. God’s intention is to bless and enrich couples through mutual comfort as they live together in faith and love. It is a new relationship that all should honour, with trust and fidelity, forsaking all others. Jesus said, “so they (husband and wife) are no longer two but one.” (Mark 10:8).
between a man and a woman is a public relationship
”Marriage should be honoured by all” (Hebrews 13:4).
The instruction to “leave his father and mother” in Genesis 2 expresses the fact that marriage was intended to be a public event. Just as today the promises are made before witnesses since marriage is a public event. This is so that the wider society can acknowledge the couple’s intention is to live together for life, respect and support it. In the new marriage service family and friends are invited to express their commitment to the newly married couple and to do all in their power to uphold them in the new life together. Details are recorded in a register that protects the legal rights of both partners as well as future children.
5. Marriage between a man and a woman is at the heart of God’s purposes for a healthy society
”Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (Hebrews 13:4)
God’s will is that sexual relations take place exclusively within marriage between a man and a woman so that, if it be God’s will, children are born and nurtured within a secure family created by the marriage of their parents. Sexual relations outside a covenant and life-long relationship between a man and a woman are consistently forbidden throughout Scripture.
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9)
Jesus was single. There is no greater justification for the gift of singleness than the pattern and example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Singleness is a gift of God. Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it." (Matthew 19:11-12).
Paul elaborates on this in his first letter to the Corinthians, and encourages people remain single because they can devote themselves to the Lord’s service without distraction:
“Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short… I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit… I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:25-35).
Chaste singleness then is a gift of God, if it can be accepted as such, and used as an opportunity to serve the Lord, unhindered by marital responsibilities.
We have looked at creation, marriage and singleness. Now lets briefly examine the most controversial aspect of gender in the Bible - homosexuality.
There are four main passages in the bible dealing with homosexual behaviour:
4.1 Genesis 19:1-13
“The two angels arrived at Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of the city... Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom--both young and old--surrounded the house. They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them." Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof." Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them." … They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. The two men said to Lot, "Do you have anyone else here--sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, 13 because we are going to destroy this place. The outcry to the LORD against its people is so great that he has sent us to destroy it." (Genesis 19:1-13).
The NT provides a commentary on this event in Jude 7:
“In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” (Jude 7)
Stott observes, “homosexual behaviour was not Sodom’s only sin; but according to scripture, it was one of its sins.”
4.2 Leviticus 18 & 20
"Do not have sexual relations with your neighbor's wife and defile yourself with her. `Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the LORD. `Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. `Do not have sexual relations with an animal and defile yourself with it.” (Leviticus 18:20-23)
"If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.” (Leviticus 20:13)
The prohibited behaviour listed in the Levitical holiness code was practiced by the indigenous population of Canaan but was forbidden God’s people. Notice that it places homosexuality between ritual infanticide and bestiality.
3. Romans 1:18-32
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator--who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion… (Romans 1:18-32)
Paul is describing the prevailing immorality of Graeco-Roman society out of which Christians have been called. On three occasions (24,26,28) Paul writes “God gave them over” to their depraved mind and decadent culture.
Paul describes their behaviour as perverted because it is unnatural and indecent. The word “unnatural” means “the departure from the created order”. What is natural is defined by creation not culture. A comparison between Romans 1:23 and Genesis 1:26 reveals the striking use of the same terms such as ‘likeness’, ‘image’, ‘human’, ‘birds’, ‘four footed animals’ and ‘reptiles’. Paul’s use of creation terminology shows that he understood both idolatry and same-sex intercourse as the rejection of God’s creation order.
4.4 1 Corinthians 6:9-11
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The reason this issue
before us today is so grave, the reason this issue could split the Anglican communion,
is because it is a gospel issue. It cuts to the very core of our faith in the
saving work of Jesus
Christ. What did
he save us from and what did he save us to? The assumption is that Christians
in Corinth had repudiated their past
behaviour. “But you were
washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus
Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
The scriptures assert consistently, unequivocally and unambiguously that homosexual behaviour, along with adultery and prostitution, unless repented of, leads to eternal damnation.
The Right Revd Peter Jensen, Archbishop of Sydney said this recently,
“So this Anglican debate boils down essentially to the question of the authority Christians give to Scripture, and they way they read it… the historic understanding of the Christian faith, not just by Anglicans but by Christians throughout the world, is caught well in the Lambeth Resolution for which ninety percent of the bishops of the Anglican Communion voted in 1998,”
On Thursday the Primates made their present understanding quite plain:
“We also re-affirm the resolutions made by the bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 on issues of human sexuality as having moral force and commanding the respect of the Communion as its present position on these issues.”
Resolution 1:10 rejected "homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture" and further it stated that it "cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions".
“The biblical texts teach that God created men and women and blessed them in life-long, heterosexual marriage. So important is the positive teaching that it is reinforced by the negatives against all other forms of sexual activity outside this norm. This has always been the plain meaning and reading of the Scripture and the historic understanding of the Christian church…
Obedience to the word of God is not a theoretical or academic matter. It is a matter of deepest obedience to the One who made us. By the grace of God there is forgiveness for breaches of God's standards and divinely empowered strength to live chastely. But we fail God and we do no service to our fellow men and women by saying or implying that God's standards are other than they are, or that they are less than they are…
Doubtless many things about modernity are different from antiquity, but our sexual make up and sexual drive are not among those differences. Whatever adaptations changing times may necessitate, changing God's standards of sexual behaviour is not among them.
Even passing knowledge of the sexual mores of young people in western societies indicates a potentially 'lost generation', lost because of a loss of moral compass. In a way, the sexual behaviour of modern westerners resembles the promiscuity that characterised much of the Roman world. Around us we see despair and purposelessness among many of our younger contemporaries. We in the Christian churches serve them best by telling them God's truth, with humility and love, but a love that is robust and genuinely caring.
It is in humility, not arrogance, that a Christian affirms to his or her sisters or brothers that this is the way to please God. There should also be no doubt that leaders in our churches should be above reproach and be those whose lives exemplify the very biblical and Christian teaching that they are duty bound to give."
I welcome the fact that our church is at a crossroads. It is a crossroads with two paths leading to two destinies.
"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13).
May God give us the wisdom to choose the right path and by God’s grace, guide others to the narrow gate.