Thursday, February 23, 2012

Same-sex "Marriage" and Schism

There are many theological issues over which sincere Christians can agree to disagree until further light comes to us. Evangelical Christians have learned to be a united renewal movement within the broader Church despite disagreements over the form and mode of baptism, models of church government, Calvinism versus Arminian soteriology, speaking in tongues and so on. The two-decade long process of Evangelical and Catholics Together has dulled the anti-Catholic fervor of most Evangelicals, although many Reformed conservatives still hold out. Personally, I think a tipping point was reached with the Lutheran-Catholic joint statement on justification and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I still believe the Roman Catholic Church is in need of further reforms, but I acknowledge that on many issues the last two centuries has witnessed a remarkable number of reforms for which the 16th century Reformers called. Significant ecumenical progress is underway.

The sheer number of such non-fellowship destroying theological issues and the good ecumenical news on several fronts, however, can have the unintended side-effect of inuring us to more serious theological disagreements which do, in fact, destroy the unity of Christ's Church and cause the loss of salvation for those who deny central truths of the Scripture. As Evangelicals and Catholics come closer together, liberal Protestantism becomes increasingly isolated from the mainstream of Christianity.

To deny the substitutionary atonement of Christ as necessary for the forgiveness of sins or the Triune nature of God or the full deity and humanity of the God-Man, Jesus Christ - these are not things which we can agree to disagree about. To deny these doctrines is to deny the Faith and to separate oneself from Christ and from his body in schism.

A serious question that must be faced today, given the slide into acceptance of so-called same-sex "marriage" by liberal Protestants, is whether or not this issue falls into the category of secondary doctrines about which disagreement can be tolerated without destroying the Church's unity or whether or not the endorsement of same-sex "marriage" is a soul-destroying heresy that rends the fabric of Christ's Church. Technically, a heresy is a doctrinal deviation that causes the heretic to be regarded as a non-Christian doomed to eternal punishment and which causes a schism in the Church by placing those who embrace the heretic outside the Church. Not all doctrinal disagreements rise to the level of heresies, but some do. It takes spiritual discernment, careful thought, historical awareness and, above all, deep biblical understanding to tell which are which.

So, is the embrace of the charade known today as same-sex "marriage" a heresy?

John Piper has a good post on Dietrich Bonhoffer and Wolfhart Pannenberg, two major twentieth-century theologians who have made solemn judgments on heresy and schism. Bonhoffer denounced the "Aryan Paragraph," which the Nazis tried to impose on the German Protestant Church in order to exclude Jews from the Church as heresy in the precise and fullest sense. In the Barmen Declaration (authored by Karl Barth) the Confessing Church separated itself from the German Christians who accepted the Aryan Paragraph. They did not just claim to be disagreeing with fellow-Christians; they were clear that to accept the Nazi demand that Jews be excluded from the Church was to abandon the Church and cease to have a credible Christian testimony.

Piper also quotes Wolfhart Pannenberg on the same-sex "marriage" issue as follows:

Here lies the boundary of a Christian church that knows itself to be bound by the authority of Scripture. Those who urge the church to change the norm of its teaching on this matter must know that they are promoting schism. If a church were to let itself be pushed to the point where it ceased to treat homosexual activity as a departure from the biblical norm, and recognized homosexual unions as a personal partnership of love equivalent to marriage, such a church would stand no longer on biblical ground but against the unequivocal witness of Scripture. A church that took this step would cease to be the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

You can access Pannenberg's entire article, of which this is the final paragraph, here. Pannenberg views the embrace of same-sex "marriage" as a schismatic act. It is a heresy.

Piper notes that the Aryan Paragraph and the endorsement of homosexuality both deny the cross of Christ. Christ died, he notes, to bring Jews and Gentiles together in one body. (Eph. 2:14-16) And Christ died to bring repentant sinners into the Kingdom of God. (I Cor. 6:9-10) Therefore, he concludes, to exclude Jews is to deny Christ and his cross and to affirm a way of life that excludes people from the kingdom of God is to take a stand against the cross of Christ, which aims to save people for the Kingdom of God.

There is no plausible way to view those who endorse homosexual sin as attempting to acknowledge the authority of Scripture. Scripture is crystal clear that homosexual activity is sin and homosexual temptations are a result of a fallen, disordered, human sexuality - a curse we all bear. There is not a single positive or neutral reference to homosexuality in all of Scripture. Romans 1 distinguishes between those who are tempted and fall into temptation and those who "not only do them but give approval to those who practice them." (Rom. 1:32) Those who commit homosexual sins merely need to repent and they can be forgiven. But those who "give approval" to such sins need to change their minds about the morality of such actions before they can repent. It is far worse to teach that evil is good and that sinful acts are not under God's condemnation than merely to engage in a wrong act. The latter imperils one's own soul, but he former imperils the souls of others as well. Only a mind that is sunk deep into sin and rebellion against Christ could endorse same-sex "marriage" as good.

The United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada have gone into schism from the rest of Protestantism. It is highly problematic even to articulate a way in which they could legitimately be called Christian Churches anymore. Their status would be closer to the Mormans or Jehovah's Witnesses than to Protestant Churches. This is a very serious matter for those who find themselves members of schismatic bodies. They need our prayers as they wrestle with what to do.

The tragedy of being conformed to this world is the loss of Jesus Christ. Same-sex "marriage" is probably the primary way contemporary Christians are being conformed to this world and thus drawn away from a living unity with our Lord and His Church. Clarity on this issue is a major requirement for effective pastoral ministry.


jonathanturtle said...

This is a matter which I have been considering lately.

To make a long story short, I am unable to be credentialed with the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada (due to a few theological differences) my home tribe for the past 16 years. This has left me in a state of ecclesiastical homelessness (or, free-agency for sports fans).

I am in the final semester of an M.Div at Wycliffe College, an evangelical Anglican seminary in Toronto.

As a person who feels the call to ordained ministry I am left in a bit of a conundrum. I have seriously been considering ordination with the Anglican Church of Canada, albeit, somewhat warily. Many things about the ACC worry and even scare me. However, even more things bring me much hope and joy. Within the ACC there is a body of evangelicals who are not afraid of the gospel and are not afraid to say so.

OK, more to the nature of your post. I'm not sure what to make of Piper's hermeneutic, but it doesn't sit right with me. "And Christ died to bring repentant sinners into the kingdom of God." Really? Christ died only for the repentant? I have no doubt that in order to enter the kingdom one must repent and believe but perhaps this is where Piper is too Calvinistic for my likings.

I have learned much from Pannenberg. But I have questions about some of his major points. For example, he says, "The indissoluble fellowship of marriage, therefore, is the goal of our creation as sexual beings (Mark 10:2-9)". Marriage is the goal for us as sexual beings? Paul and even Jesus say elsewhere that it is preferable to be single. Further, is the Genesis account laying out a Biblical ideal that is meant to be normative for all time or is there a connection being made here with God's promise to Israel and his command that they be fruitful and multiply?

I think that by and large, homosexual relations as we know them today are indeed sinful for the reason that Pannenberg states, it is inverted and perverted. But isn't this also true of most heterosexual relations, even Christian marraiges? I know in my experience, my 5 short years of marriage thus far have only served to *magnify* just how inverted and perverted my love is. Thus, marriage has helped lead me to repentance, but I am still not there yet. And yet, just because most heterosexual relations are inverted and perverted doesn't mean we write them off entirely and chose instead to pursue single celibacy as Paul suggests we ought to. So then, is it not at all conceivable that there could exist a homosexual relation that might also be acceptable if not perfect?

Is this issue really a major theological matter that ought to be labelled heretical? I don't know, maybe. If the only voices we listen to are the likes of Piper and Pannenberg, then yes. But even they do not have a corner on the gospel.

Is it worth me seeking ordination with the Anglican Church of Canada? Well, that's a question that will require much discernment and prayer. Your prayers would be appreciated (for my classmates, as well).

Grace and peace.


Craig Carter said...

Have you considered the Anglican Church of North America? That is the future of Anglicanism.

But you need to separate theological issues from practical, vocational decisions. I know many are tempted to compromise on homosexuality because the cultural pressure to do so is extremely high. It is only human to be tempted.

On the issue of equating heterosexual marriage with homosexual sin, well you know full well that is crazy. I don't need to tell you that. No we are not perfect and that is irrelevant to the morality of homosexual acts.

Your comment on Piper makes no sense. He is simply saying that repentance is necessary for salvation. It is not just Calvinists who believe that: it is the whole Church Catholic and Protestant except for liberal Protestant heretics.

Evangelical Christianity proclaims a message of hope and change through the power of the Gospel. To tell people they don't have to repent or change and that they can't expect God's power in their life to help them renounce sin and find new life - that is inexcusable. A person who does that is no longer preaching the Biblical Gospel.

I will pray for you. The only thing I will say about the ACC is that the situation of the Evangelicals in that Church is highly precarious and the future looks ominous. Those in control of that Church intend to enforce their heresy; it will take great courage to stand against the liberal agenda.

Peter W. Dunn said...

Thanks for this post and the discussion with Jonathan. I appreciate the dilemma because we have been members of an Anglican parish since 2002. Now, we are likewise homeless, though we attend infrequently our church.

I fear that it is no longer possible to build on the foundation of this church. The old wineskins cannot contain the new wine of the Spirit.

I draw the line with "Our Faith, Our Hope" campaign:

The Diocese of Toronto has now insisted that parish participate in this ungodly campaign for finances, asking parishes to give their list of donors to a third party, and then enlist members of parish to hit up other members for the campaign.

If the apostate bishops of Toronto want to control money, they get nothing from us.

And as for Jonathan, I wonder how you can contemplate ordination in Toronto area, when it means submitting to an apostate bishop (Colin Johnson) who has recently ordained a Lesbian? I for one cannot bring myself to do that.

jonathanturtle said...

My thanks to you both for your response.

Craig, I have been looking in ACNA but remain unsure. At the moment I'm trying to talk with as wide a range of folks as I can to get their perspective on the future of Anglicanism in Canada. Unlike yourself and Peter though, I do see a good deal of hope for the Anglican Church of Canada. Not all dioceses are alike. And yes, while Toronto has it's issues there are also a lot of good folks here whom I know and have studied with who give me hope. I met with the Bishop of Algoma, Stephen Andrews, this past week. He is a good man, perhaps one of the more conservative bishops in the ACC. I suppose what I am trying to suggest is that it may be more helpful to look at this at a diocese level as each diocese has a certain measure of autonomy. Thus, while the diocese of New Westminster may be in shambles the diocese of Algoma is looking quite exciting!

Peter, as for Bp. Colin Johnson, I'd need to know a bit more about this ordination case to be able to judge whether or not he is truly apostate.


Peter W. Dunn said...

Jonathan: I agree with you that Stephen Andrews is one of the good guys, and that there are dioceses in the Anglican church which haven't bowed the knee to Baal. It is not their heresy which I question, but the complacency.

But I ask you, should we not have solidarity for our brothers who have been forced to leave and protest against the confiscation of their places of worship by ungodly men like Michael Ingham. My conscience cannot accept that I enjoy my church while I have brothers and sisters in the Diocese of New Westminster who suffer so. And why? because they wish to stand up for the truth.

Who will stand up for me when my goods are taken away? When one part of the body suffers we all suffer. But my parish stand idly by while other Christians suffer plunder. How can the rest stand for that? What can we do to stand in solidarity with those who have been thus plundered?

jonathanturtle said...

Peter, I think you raise an important and concerning question. As someone who is relatively new to the world of Anglicanism I am not totally familiar with the confiscation of property from parishes but I cannot say I would be shocked to find out this is so. What are we to do? How can we stand in solidarity? I'm not entirely sure, but it is certainly worth prayerfully discerning. I remain unconvinced though that parting ways with the ACC is the only, or even best, option.

Thanks again for your responses here. This has been helpful for me over the past few days as my wife and I wrestle with these matters.

Peter W. Dunn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter W. Dunn said...

Corrected comment:
I am disappointed with my own parish for not being willing to discuss these issues. It happened admittedly when the parish was looking for a new priest. The new priest, as a many others in the Anglican church, is evangelical, charismatic, and believes to stay in the Anglican church is best.

There is a division now between those forced out and those who want to remain in. I see that as unfortunate, but if I were from one of the parishes locked out of their buildings, I guess I wouldn't be too happy with those who remain doing nothing in support of those locked out.

I see the "Our Faith, Our Hope" campaign as the last straw. I will not, as a donor in the Anglican church, be coerced into feeding the beast. If they want everything, they get nothing.

If you want to know more about these issues, such as the apostate bishop Colin Johnson, or the confiscation of property, you can find information easily through google searches. It was confiscation from the standpoint of those who actually paid for the church buildings--it feels like confiscation, though the dioceses involved believe that they are dealing with obstinate uncooperative congregations. Take for example one St. John's Shaughnessy in Vancouver which recently had to vacate their buildings and start again elsewhere. As far as my parish is concerned, this event hasn't even happened--at least not from the standpoint of a concerted reaction in support of those who have been dispossessed. "Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted", unless you are so complacent that you do nothing in the face of persecution and injustice.

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