Last week, after Tony Campolo announced that he now supports same-sex marriage (a logical progression given the long-time devaluation of biblical authority in his “Red-Letter Christian” initiative), former Christianity Today editor David Neff affirmed the same thing.
David Neff has been a voice of reasoned Christian faith for decades. His loss from the ranks of Evangelical orthodoxy is regrettable. Responding to Neff’s abandonment of biblical teaching, CT’s Mark Galli wrote, “At CT, we’re saddened that David has come to this conclusion. Saddened because we firmly believe that the Bible teaches that God intends the most intimate of covenant relationships to be enjoyed exclusively by a man and a woman. We’ve stated this view explicitly in many editorials, and it is implicit but clear in many of our feature stories.”
Galli rightly observes that the great majority of Christians around the world affirm Scripture’s teaching on human sexuality.
North American and European Christians who believe in gay marriage are a small minority in these regions, and churches that ascribe to a more liberal sexual ethic continue to wither. Meanwhile, poll Christians in Africa, Asia, and practically anywhere in the world, and you’ll hear a resounding “no” to gay marriage. Scan the history of the church for 2,000 years and you’ll have a hard time turning up any Christian who would support same-sex marriage. The church has been and remains overwhelmingly united. It’s undergoing stress, certainly. But the evidence doesn’t support a narrative of division and collapse on this point.
He’s right. In a 2011 Pew Research survey conducted of 2,200 Evangelical leaders worldwide, 84 percent affirmed that “society should discourage homosexuality.” I suspect that had they been asked specifically about same-sex “marriage,” the consensus of opinion would have been close to 100 percent.
Galli concludes with these thoughtful words:
We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter. And we’ll continue to be sorry, because over the next many years, there will be other evangelicals who similarly reverse themselves on sexual ethics.
We’ll be sad, but we won’t panic or despair. Neither will we feel compelled to condemn the converts and distance ourselves from them. But to be sure, they will be enlisting in a cause that we believe is ultimately destructive to society, to the church, and to relations between men and women.
Wise and gracious, but one concern: How can we not “distance ourselves” from those whose heterodoxy has distanced themselves from us? I’m not fully sure what Galli means, and I don’t want to read a meaning into his words he has not put there.
No one should advocate hostile severance of friendship. And Christian fellowship should not be conditioned on unanimous agreement about secondary things.
There are many issues about which believers in Jesus can disagree in good conscience. Same-sex “marriage” is not one of them. It’s not the same as a dispute about the meaning of the Lord’s Supper or kneeling benches or watching certain types of movies. It goes beyond debates about elder rule and speaking in tongues and the age of accountability.
These things are not unimportant but they are not essential to orthodox faith. The Bible’s teaching about human sexuality is. From beginning to end, the books composing the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures make clear that human sexuality is a gift from God and that sexual intimacy is designed for one man and one woman within the covenant of marriage. These teachings are final. They are non-negotiable. They have been revealed us in human nature and biology and in reason, and most importantly and with unmistakable clarity by God in His written Word.
So, unavoidably, differences of conviction concerning an indisputable truth of Scripture will mean that fellowship will be affected. We cannot celebrate the Lordship of Christ and proclaim our love for His written Word with those willing to challenge the one and undermine the other.
Close friends parting over issues of convictional disagreement involves not matters of personal betrayal or lack of affection. These things can and should be matters of candor, confession, and forgiveness.
But matters of the conscience and belief about how fundamentally to live in the world in a manner honoring to God are in a wholly different category. And, ironically, the same kinds of matters that drew the friends together in the first place can be the basis of grieved but faithful separation when one of the friends endorses that which is opposed to them.
I don’t write any of this lightly. I’ve been blessed with some close friends who are like brothers to me. The idea of losing the friendship of any of them creates a tremor in my soul. Yet how can we experience unbroken fellowship with someone who has chosen to abandon his first love, that which extends to Christ and only thus to others in Him?
“Controversy in religion is a hateful thing,” J.C. Ryle is quoted as saying. “It is hard enough to fight the devil, the world and the flesh, without private differences in our own camp. But there is one thing which is worse than controversy—and that is false doctrine tolerated, allowed, and permitted without protest.”
There is no love in pretending that sin is not sin, and that those who endorse it have not erred. When they veer away from truth settled forever in heaven, let’s be sure to call them back to it with humility (unless we watch our own souls, we could well follow them) but also with persistence. He Who was filled with both grace and truth and Whose glory demands our full obedience and love calls us to no less.
Publication date: June 25, 2015