Another long-time Evangelical pastor, Stan Mitchell, has decided that homosexuality is acceptable to the God of the Bible; TIME magazine makes quite a story of it. In his self-disclosing comments about his decision, it is noteworthy that he talks a lot about love and "conversation" and "journeys" but little or not at all about truth and the Bible.
Of initial note is Pastor Mitchell's ominous omittance of any biblical basis for his change. The absence of any reference to Scripture in his comments renders his sermon mere autobiography, not proclamation of truth in love.
As to the substance of what is, for Christians, determinative, it's this: what one believes about human sexuality comes down to whether or not the book Christians proclaim as the written Word of God is, in fact, that. The questions are these:
Is the Bible authoritative? Were the 66 books composing inspired by God through human agency, thus both reflecting the vocabulary, experiences and contexts of its human authors yet free from error in all it affirms? And, consequently, is what the Bible says that to which professing servants of Jesus Christ must submit, fully and without equivocation? Evangelicals answer yes.
Is what the Bible teaches about human sexuality clear? Is there ambiguity in what it heralds as truth? Theologians throughout the centuries, leading contemporary exegetes and commentators and millions of ordinary Christians whose capacity for understanding the Bible is sound have agreed for 2,000 years about what the Scripture says concerning sex, marriage and non-heterosexual behavior. Specifically, that sexual intimacy is reserved for one man and one woman in the covenant of marriage. Period. No qualifications or exceptions. Evangelicals so affirm.
Is what the Bible says about human sexuality sufficient? The Bible claims for itself what the church historically has affirmed it is: The written self-revelation of the Triune God. It provides for His people "everything pertaining to life and godliness" (II Peter 1:3). It is pretty reasonable to assume that this includes instruction concerning how we, decidedly sexual beings, should manifest and practice our sexuality. This assumption is correct, of course. From Genesis through Revelation, Scripture makes plain God's design for marriage as the one means of morally valid sexual self-expression and love. This revelation provides sufficient guidance for all people in every culture at all times. Including ours. Evangelicals herald this as good news.
Pastor Mitchell responds defensively about assertions by me and others that one cannot truly be an Evangelical and jettison the Bible's teaching about human sexuality. He asks, "Who has the copyright on the word evangelical? I didn't know there was a papacy on this."
He's right – there isn't. Historically, Evangelicals have asserted with Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, Wycliffe, Tyndale and a host of witnesses that we don't need a pope because, instead, we have the authoritative, enscripturated Word of God, which is sufficiently clear (and has been since the completion of the canon) for all believers to understand it's essential teachings. One of them is that human sexuality is grounded in two genders and that sexual intimacy is only sanctioned by the Creator within the context of one-man, one-woman marriage. If this is not plain, then the Old and New Testaments should just be apprised as intriguing antiquarian texts whose meaning is so obscure or so malleable that its objective, final authority is meaningless.
Evangelical Protestantism affirms quite the opposite, that the Bible is authoritative, clear and sufficient. This is foundational to the Gospel, the Evangel, to being Evangelicals. Destroy the foundation and one's claim to be Evangelical is lost.
I echo the words of my friend Owen Strachan: "I bear no animus against Mitchell. I don't know him and have never heard of him. I'm deeply sorry to see him reject biblical truth, and I pray he turns back from his sin. I pray he repents in sackcloth and ashes, in fact." Amen.
A hymn first published in 1787, "How Firm a Foundation," captures the heart of Evangelical devotion to "the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Revelation 1:2). It's first stanza is a bracing close:
How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He has said,
To you, who for refuge to Jesus have fled?