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Christian Gay Marriage? Some say ‘OF COURSE!’ Some say ‘NO WAY!’ Both groups argue strongly and stridently. Both groups treat this as a Primary Issue, one over which we need to make a stand.

Here is the MAYBE view. Here we say confidently that we don’t know, we’re not certain, we disagree, God has not yet made His answer clear. Here we say strongly ‘This is not a primary issue.’ We need, at least for the moment, to make space for different views and different approaches.

Please comment, discuss, disagree. Please first read carefully, listen to, what others have written. Please be open to others and to the, sometimes surprising, Holy Spirit.

Various pages develop the understanding. Look at the list of pages at the top, to the right of the blog title. Begin with Listening to Jesus, then Listening to the Holy Spirit, then Listening to Scripture, then Conclusions. If you think this is an odd order, see the post below on the Bible and Authority. The ‘News and Comments’ page contains ongoing thinking, more like a normal blog, with new posts from time to time.

Jeff Chu has recently published a magisterial review of American Christian views on gay marriage, through interviews with people expressing the whole range of opinion. (Does Jesus Really Love Me? http://www.harpercollins.com/books/Does-Jesus-Really-Love-Me-Jeff-Chu/?isbn=9780062049735) Jeff writes:
‘… the church that I’m talking about is not a building but the collection of the people who are trying their best to walk with Jesus. It does not end at 12:15 on Sundays. It’s wherever we and our hopes and our complicated, messy lives are. It’s a place where we aren’t afraid to say, “I don’t know.” ‘ http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/jeff-chu-are-we-there-yet

Roger Harper

Roger is a Church of England Vicar and an Author. He has written a doctrine book The Lie of Hell, and a whodunit A British Crash. See http://www.laddermedia.co.uk or http://www.amazon.co.uk

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The Bible and Authority

‘But isn’t it clear that the Bible is against gay marriage? End of argument.’

The Bible itself does not say that the Bible is the supreme authority in guiding the Church. Jesus did not say that the Bible will lead us into all truth, He said that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. The Bible does not say that the Bible is the Head of the Church. The Bible says that Jesus is the Head of the Church. The Bible does not say that the Bible is Lord. The Bible says that the Holy Spirit is Lord.

If we want to know which way to think and act as Christians we consult our Head, we listen to our Lord. The voice from the cloud at the Transfiguration said starkly ‘This (Jesus) is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.’ Moses and Elijah, representing the Old Scriptures, were alongside Jesus. The disciples were told in the most authoritative and dramatic way not to listen to Moses and Elijah alongside Jesus, but simply to listen to Jesus. They then saw Him alone. Today we do the same ‘Listen to Him.’

But Jesus and the Holy Spirit will never contradict the Bible. If we know what the Bible says, we know what Jesus is saying.

Who said, referring to the Scriptures, ‘But I say to you?’ Doesn’t this indicate that Jesus understood that His authority was greater than the authority of the Scriptures? What Jesus says can outweigh what Scripture says. Doesn’t he imply the same when he tells us that wise men build on hearing His words and doing them, rather than the words of Scripture? Doesn’t He underline His authority by saying that disciples are to be taught to obey everything He commanded, not everything commanded in Scripture?

When the Church decided that the lifestyle of God’s people did not necessarily include not eating pork and shellfish the reason given was ‘It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.’ This was not a decision based on Scripture, for the overwhelming weight of Scripture at the time was against this decision. For Christians now the description of this process is part of Scripture, in the book of Acts. This means that here we have the New Testament Biblical model of how to make Church decisions.

It is too simple to say that the Holy Spirit never contradicts Scripture. The Holy Spirit does what He did in Acts. The Holy Spirit led the early Church to believe that He was showing that people who had not grown up as Jews could be part of God’s people without keeping the Jewish laws. This was not a matter on which Jesus had spoken plainly, although He had said that all foods are clean, can be eaten, even by Jews. The Holy Spirit spoke primarily not through Bible exposition, but through a vision given to Peter and through manifesting His presence in people who were not keeping the Jewish Law. Passages of Scripture had taught the importance of obeying from the heart rather than obeying out of duty, convention or selfishness. The Holy Spirit magnified this strand of Scripture and diminished the strand that taught that God wants all the requirements of the Law kept. After much debate, the Church was able to say ‘It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us…’

What is the Holy Spirit saying today? Is gay marriage a development, magnifying some strands in Scripture and diminishing others, into which the Holy Spirit is leading us? Is this a matter of primary importance, on which we need to make a stand, or is it something about which we can disagree? Both these questions will be in mind throughout this blog.

What comes when we listen to Jesus alone, at least at first, not alongside Moses (in Genesis and Leviticus) and Paul? It is important that we follow the procedure given to us in the Bible. We don’t know what the answer is, but we know the way to find the answer as Christians. The way is not the Bible, the way is Jesus, who spoke then and speaks today by His Spirit.

See also http://rogerharper.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/unbiblical-evangelicals-25-january/

And Chapter 1 ‘Building Christian Doctrine’ in The Lie of Hell (www.laddermedia.co.uk)

Roger Harper

Listening to Jesus 1

This is the first section of the Page ‘Listening to Jesus.’ For the whole presentation, click on ‘Listening to Jesus’ on the right side of the title of this blog.

One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. `Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ` “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’
Matthew 22:35-40 NRSV

These two Great Commandments must be borne in mind as we begin. All the Law and Prophets derive from them. They are the Primary words of our Primary authority. How do they help us with the two questions: Is gay marriage a development into which the Holy Spirit is leading us? Is gay marriage a primary issue?

Loving God means that we are devoted to him to all that he is, and does and says. Loving God is often contrasted with loving the world. We love God more than we love popularity. We love God, the God and Father of Jesus, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even if this means derision and ostracism from people who do not share this love. We love everything that God has said, firstly in His Son, His Word made flesh, and also in all the other communications which have been agreed to come authentically from him. We love the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit communicates to us in his own distinct and complex ways, not as an afterthought, but as part of the foundation of our lives as God’s people.

It is clear from much debate, not least as summarised with great erudition and sympathy in Some Issues in Human Sexuality, that the weight of Scripture, especially from the 6 texts, points to the unacceptability for gay marriage for Christians. It could be that our love for God means that we hold to this truth even and especially when it goes against the culture in which we live, and against our own preferences for accommodation.

At the same time, as already mentioned, we must not place ‘love of what God has said in the past’ over love for God himself – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There are people among us who are saying that the Holy Spirit is leading us into a truth which we have not been able to bear before now. Our love for God means that we must make every effort to weigh this claim. If this is indeed God leading us into a new aspect of ‘all truth’ we will grieve him severely if we do not listen very carefully to what he might be saying to us. We must be very clear that this he is not in this development. Otherwise we may be ignoring him, far from loving Him.

Our love of our neighbour, similarly, does not give us a clear answer to our first question. Godly love for the neighbour, as expressed in the commendation of the true friend in Proverbs, is a love that sometimes speaks the hard truth. We would like others gently but clearly to point out to us a dangerous path on which we are set. We must therefore do the same for others. It could be that gay people will, in the end, suffer because of the restrictions and oppression they place on themselves through entering a gay marriage. If this is true, it is not, ultimately, loving to give a different message.

Godly love for neighbour can also be argued to support gay marriage, removing an unjust and unequal distinction between neighbours. Some of us are predominantly attracted to the opposite sex. Some of us are predominately attracted to the same sex. Loving our neighbour as ourselves entails all of us helping each other to enjoy the benefits that we enjoy, including helping gay people to enjoy all the benefits of marriage. This is a very simple argument which has been used in support of gay marriage and which has been criticised by some Christians as ‘unbiblical.’ By placing Jesus’ Great Commands in the proper, primary, place, we see that this is, rather, a very Biblical, simple, argument.

The Great Commands do not give an answer to our first question but they do give a first pointer to our second question. Gay marriage is an issue in which we can conceivably love God and love our neighbour in different ways. It is hard to see, therefore, that gay marriage can be a primary issue. People on both sides of the debate can authentically obey the Great Commands. There are no grounds here for rejecting either position, and, therefore, we may find ourselves, at least for now, honouring both.

Roger Harper