Are Sex and Marriage Issues of Orthodoxy?
Can Christians agree to disagree about same-sex “marriage”? Or is accepting homosexuality heresy? These are big questions, and I’ll venture answers. Most of us are familiar with the Nicene Creed, the statement of faith adopted in 325 A.D. to unite Christians against the Arian heresy. It is, to this day, the most widely-used summary of Christian orthodoxy. Lately, “orthodoxy” has become stickier to define. In the wake of the sexual revolution, some who call themselves Christians and would affirm the Nicene Creed, also accept unions between members of the same sex. Here at the Colson Center, we believe, as the Christian Church has taught for two millennia, that any sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman runs contrary to God’s design. It is serious sin, condemned in no uncertain terms in both the Old and New Testaments. So to justify homosexual behavior, or any other expression of sexual deviance, one must do imaginative hermeneutic gymnastics. Recently, Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith, whose work I’ve benefitted from immensely, wrote that while he cannot question the historic stance of the church on homosexual behavior and understands it to be sinful, he disagrees with elevating this issue to the level of the o-word. “Orthodoxy,” he writes, refers only to the creed and the doctrines it affirms, like the creatorhood of God, the divinity and humanity of Jesus, and the Trinity. Adding traditional marriage to the Nicene list of non-negotiable Christian doctrines, he worries, distracts from the life and work of Jesus and reduces Christianity to a set of morals. Evangelicals and Catholics who use the categories of orthodoxy and heresy to talk about sex, he suggests, are being selective and maybe even a little obsessive. After all, there’s never been a marriage council in church history, right? Now, Smith isn’t saying that he agrees with so called same-sex “marriage” or that it’s no big deal. He’s simply worried that we’re muddying the meaning of “orthodoxy.” And that is a valid concern. But as theologian Alastair Roberts points out, Smith has forgotten that the very first council in church history, the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15, did take up the issue of sexuality. Gentile Christians were told to “abstain from sexual immorality,” which for the Jewish apostles would mean the list of practices condemned in Leviticus 18, including homosexual behavior. Second, the Nicene Creed was never meant to be the exhaustive description of the Christian faith. Rather, the creed functions as a summary of God’s full revelation—one specifically tailored to address a destructive heresy. All the councils and creeds were, in fact, responses to particular heresies. I’d suggest it’s quite telling that sex and marriage were never considered “up in the air” for the Church since the Jerusalem Council until now. And when the Nicene Creed uses words like “almighty,” “judge,” “holy,” and “sins,” we’re not free, writes Roberts, to plug in our preferred definitions. The creed’s words are defined by God in Scripture. And that’s ultimately why theology that accepts homosexuality is outside of Christian orthodoxy. When the writers of the creed spoke of “sin,” they assumed God’s definition. In the same way, when they spoke of God as Creator, they assumed His design for the world, including the creation of male and female, which Jesus Himself considered authoritative when He talked about marriage. By responding to the homosexual error some Christians have embraced, evangelicals and Catholics aren’t being selective or obsessive at all. We’re doing precisely what the authors of the church’s creeds were doing when they defended truth against the popular errors of their day. The Church of today must stand firm on sex and marriage, just as the Church of yesterday stood firm on the deity of Christ at the Council of Nicaea. After all, He’s the same yesterday, today and forever.