The Church Has Changed Its Mind

On Other Issues

People often point out that the church has changed its mind before on analogous issues and will do so again on this issue. Those defending a traditional understanding are merely postponing the inevitable. The issues cited generally are slavery, divorce and women in leadership. They might also raise scientific issues such as whether the universe revolves around the earth or whether it was created in six 24-hour days.

Response

The first question to ask is: Are those issues really analogous? The answer is that they are not in one very important sense. At worst they have been controversial because there are various biblical passages that need to be held in tension. That is not true with homosexual acts. There are no positive passages. Every passage that directly (or even indirectly) addresses homosexual acts condemns them. A second questions is: is it actually true that the church has changed its mind? Did the church ever actually teach what it is said to have taught? Women in leadership Does the Bible teach that women should not have leadership roles? This is too big a topic to address comprehensively here but let us simply note that, alongside the passages that, at face value, do say that women should not teach in the church, there are passages that assume that women do have leadership roles and there are multiple examples of women who do. Likewise, there have been women leaders in the church throughout its history. That is not to say that the church has always got the balance right. Far from it. The church has been largely patriarchal and women have been offered only lesser roles. The point, however, is that there is a diversity of biblical teaching that must be worked on to be understood properly. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself but there are multiple facets to some issues that we sometimes struggle to balance properly. It is not that way with homosexual acts. The Bible is very clear and so the two issues are not analogous. Slavery It is true that the Bible doesn’t confront slavery and demand its abolition but it certainly does begin to dismantle it. The general answer is that demands for abolition would have been too disruptive to a society largely dependent on slavery and would have seen Christians condemned as undermining society. On the other hand, the New Testament calls Christians to a vastly different attitude to slavery. Masters were called to treat their slaves well and even to see them as equals. When that is the attitude, slaves effectively become employees (and we still allow employment!) Some churches have promoted slavery but that is the point. It has, at worst, been small segments of the church that have taught that slavery is God’s will. The church, by-and-large, has not. Of course, it was Evangelical Christians who fought against the African slave trade and achieved its abolition. It is simply not correct to say that the Bible teaches slavery or that the church has, and has had to change its mind. The church has simply continued the dismantling of slavery that was started in the New Testament. Racial Prejudice Again, some segments of the church have taught racial prejudice but the church, as a whole, never has. On the contrary, from its first day the church has united people from many parts of the world and, early in its history, overcame the difficulty it had with incorporating Gentiles. The gospel is for all. The disciples were commissioned to make disciples of all nations (people groups.) Even in the Old Testament, the predominant teaching is respect for, and welcome to, the foreigner. There too the purpose was that all nations be blessed. Jesus focused His mission on the Jews – simply so as not to spread Himself too thin and become ineffective. However, even with that focus, He welcomed, ministered to and commended, Gentiles. It is not true to say that the Bible teaches racial prejudice nor that the church has been forced to change its mind. On the contrary, the church has been at the forefront of teaching love. Divorce Divorce is a different kettle of fish. Christians differ on this but many would agree that the Bible teaches that divorce is never God’s Plan A but that He allows it in certain circumstances because of “the hardness of people’s hearts” (Matthew 19:8). There may be debate about when it is permissible but some would argue that it is when there has been infidelity (Matthew 5:32) or abandonment (1 Corinthians 7:15). At times the church has been fairly harsh towards divorcees and there has been a shift in attitudes. However, some would now argue that the pendulum has swung too far the other way and the church has become soft, accepting divorce willy-nilly when God does view it dimly. In other words, has the church become too much like society when it should be upholding the sanctity of marriage? If the church has shifted too far, that is not an argument for saying it should do the same thing with regard to homosexual acts. Getting it wrong twice is not the answer. The church needs to do more work on understanding what the scriptures say and then being faithful to that, no matter what society says. Science questions All of these issues could take a lot more time and they are only incidentally related to our main topic. Does the Bible teach that the earth is flat? No. Does the Bible teach that the earth is the centre of the universe? No. If the church is to be criticised on this issue, then society is equally culpable. Geocentrism was the general understanding of everybody and it was falsely assumed that it was the teaching of the Bible. We could go on. The point is that these situations that are raised as examples of the church changing its mind are not analogous to homosexual acts. They may have been hard to understand because of the various facets to them, or because of the prevailing societal view, but they are not the clear, unambiguous teaching of the Bible, that people have now rejected. The biblical condemnation of practicing homosexual acts is clear and unambiguous.

Related pages

© 2017 Peter Cheyne
A Christian’s Guide To Homosexuality
Truth In Love
Main sections Main sections

The Church Has

Changed Its Mind On

Other Issues

People often point out that the church has changed its mind before on analogous issues and will do so again on this issue. Those defending a traditional understanding are merely postponing the inevitable. The issues cited generally are slavery, divorce and women in leadership. They might also raise scientific issues such as whether the universe revolves around the earth or whether it was created in six 24-hour days.

Response

The first question to ask is: Are those issues really analogous? The answer is that they are not in one very important sense. At worst they have been controversial because there are various biblical passages that need to be held in tension. That is not true with homosexual acts. There are no positive passages. Every passage that directly (or even indirectly) addresses homosexual acts condemns them. A second questions is: is it actually true that the church has changed its mind? Did the church ever actually teach what it is said to have taught? Women in leadership Does the Bible teach that women should not have leadership roles? This is too big a topic to address comprehensively here but let us simply note that, alongside the passages that, at face value, do say that women should not teach in the church, there are passages that assume that women do have leadership roles and there are multiple examples of women who do. Likewise, there have been women leaders in the church throughout its history. That is not to say that the church has always got the balance right. Far from it. The church has been largely patriarchal and women have been offered only lesser roles. The point, however, is that there is a diversity of biblical teaching that must be worked on to be understood properly. The Bible doesn’t contradict itself but there are multiple facets to some issues that we sometimes struggle to balance properly. It is not that way with homosexual acts. The Bible is very clear and so the two issues are not analogous. Slavery It is true that the Bible doesn’t confront slavery and demand its abolition but it certainly does begin to dismantle it. The general answer is that demands for abolition would have been too disruptive to a society largely dependent on slavery and would have seen Christians condemned as undermining society. On the other hand, the New Testament calls Christians to a vastly different attitude to slavery. Masters were called to treat their slaves well and even to see them as equals. When that is the attitude, slaves effectively become employees (and we still allow employment!) Some churches have promoted slavery but that is the point. It has, at worst, been small segments of the church that have taught that slavery is God’s will. The church, by-and-large, has not. Of course, it was Evangelical Christians who fought against the African slave trade and achieved its abolition. It is simply not correct to say that the Bible teaches slavery or that the church has, and has had to change its mind. The church has simply continued the dismantling of slavery that was started in the New Testament. Racial Prejudice Again, some segments of the church have taught racial prejudice but the church, as a whole, never has. On the contrary, from its first day the church has united people from many parts of the world and, early in its history, overcame the difficulty it had with incorporating Gentiles. The gospel is for all. The disciples were commissioned to make disciples of all nations (people groups.) Even in the Old Testament, the predominant teaching is respect for, and welcome to, the foreigner. There too the purpose was that all nations be blessed. Jesus focused His mission on the Jews – simply so as not to spread Himself too thin and become ineffective. However, even with that focus, He welcomed, ministered to and commended, Gentiles. It is not true to say that the Bible teaches racial prejudice nor that the church has been forced to change its mind. On the contrary, the church has been at the forefront of teaching love. Divorce Divorce is a different kettle of fish. Christians differ on this but many would agree that the Bible teaches that divorce is never God’s Plan A but that He allows it in certain circumstances because of “the hardness of people’s hearts” (Matthew 19:8). There may be debate about when it is permissible but some would argue that it is when there has been infidelity (Matthew 5:32) or abandonment (1 Corinthians 7:15). At times the church has been fairly harsh towards divorcees and there has been a shift in attitudes. However, some would now argue that the pendulum has swung too far the other way and the church has become soft, accepting divorce willy-nilly when God does view it dimly. In other words, has the church become too much like society when it should be upholding the sanctity of marriage? If the church has shifted too far, that is not an argument for saying it should do the same thing with regard to homosexual acts. Getting it wrong twice is not the answer. The church needs to do more work on understanding what the scriptures say and then being faithful to that, no matter what society says. Science questions All of these issues could take a lot more time and they are only incidentally related to our main topic. Does the Bible teach that the earth is flat? No. Does the Bible teach that the earth is the centre of the universe? No. If the church is to be criticised on this issue, then society is equally culpable. Geocentrism was the general understanding of everybody and it was falsely assumed that it was the teaching of the Bible. We could go on. The point is that these situations that are raised as examples of the church changing its mind are not analogous to homosexual acts. They may have been hard to understand because of the various facets to them, or because of the prevailing societal view, but they are not the clear, unambiguous teaching of the Bible, that people have now rejected. The biblical condemnation of practicing homosexual acts is clear and unambiguous.

Related pages

© Peter Cheyne 2017.