By Many Hands
“[T]he question of homosexuality now presents evangelicals in the United States with a decision that cannot be avoided. Within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question. There will be no place to hide, and there will be no way to remain silent. To be silent will answer the question.
“The question is whether evangelicals will remain true to the teachings of Scripture and the unbroken teaching of the Christian church for over two thousand years on the morality of same-sex acts and the institution of marriage” (Albert Mohler, “God, the Gospel, and the Gay Challenge—a Response to Matthew Vines,” http://www.albertmohler.com/2014/04/22/god-the-gospel-and-the-gay-challenge-a-response-to-matthew-vines/).
The church stands on a precipice. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is seeing clearly on a crucial issue. The tides of culture are washing in on the church. Mohler warns we are now living in the midst of what is essentially a revolution. Society-wide conceptions of morality are rapidly changing, and “. . .our answer to this question will both determine or reveal what we understand about everything the Bible reveals and everything the church teaches—even the gospel itself” (Ibid.).
If Mohler is right, much more is at stake for Adventists than a mere attempt to hold together opposite wings as one church. The actual question for us, is whether or not the Seventh-day Adventist Church will continue its commitment to following the Bible, that is, whether or not the Seventh-day Adventist Church will continue to exist as we know it.
The larger context of Mohler’s article is the threat posed by the teaching of Matthew Vines. Vines, an evangelical Christian, began a few years ago to publicly argue that one can both be Christian and also engage in committed same-sex “relationships.” He has gone on to develop and publish his viewpoints. Mohler warns that Vines “specifically seeks to argue that the basic sexual complementarity of the human male and the female—each made in God’s image—is neither essential to Genesis chapters 1 and 2 or to any biblical text that follows.”
This will have a familiar ring to Seventh-day Adventists who support our longstanding use of the Historical-grammatical method, who see evidence in Genesis two as does the New Testament’s apostle Paul. Under inspiration, Paul looks back to Genesis two, before the fall, for divinely-revealed insight on male and female roles. Opposite this Genesis two understanding we find Adventists advocating what the NAD has recently designated as the “Principle-based, Historical-cultural” (PBHC) method of Bible interpretation. Theirs is a view holding that these male and female roles arise not from Genesis two but from chapter three, after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God.
The difference is enormous. If male and female roles of headship and submission are part of the Creator’s design from a sinless world (as are Sabbath and marriage), they remain forever normative. But if headship entered only after sin, it is temporary and not part of the created order.
It is interesting to ponder which approach is consonant with current cultural claims of role interchangeability and same-sex “marriage”? Mohler warns:
“There are a great host of people, considered to be within the larger evangelical movement, who are desperately seeking a way to make peace with the moral revolution and endorse the acceptance of openly-gay individuals and couples within the life of the church. Given the excruciating pressures now exerted on evangelical Christianity, many people—including some high-profile leaders—are desperately seeking an argument they can claim as both persuasive and biblical. . . . the Bible insists on a difference in roles. In order to overcome this impediment, biblical scholars and theologians committed to egalitarianism have made arguments that are hauntingly similar to those now made by Matthew Vines in favor of relativizing the Bible’s texts on same-sex behaviors” (Ibid.).
The warning is clear. Denial of male and female complementarity opens the way for the denial of sexual complementarity. There are risks and potholes all over this road. If the Seventh-day Adventist Church would remain on the path of faithfulness to Scripture, it must step carefully. It must look beyond short term “gains” (keeping the church “together”) to the longer-term perspective.
The church is not “together.” There are differing approaches, differing hermeneutics, different views concerning the authority of Scripture. But there is a movement toward clarity. In due course we will have clarity. As in the larger evangelical world, soon everyone will know where the Seventh-day Adventist Church stands. One pathway compromises with culture; the other, although painful, maintains the counter-cultural biblical witness of an Eden to be restored. This witness is God’s Eden corrective, not man’s compromise with culture.
We stand on the precipice. The only question is whether or not we recognize it. Clarification on sex-roles in the church is not coming one moment too soon. If Mohler is right, “within a very short time, we will know where everyone stands on this question.”